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University of Iowa

To make better policy, states seek better death certificates

WASHINGTON Robert Anderson may know more about death than anybody else in the United States.

Anderson is chief of mortality statistics for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Information about death flows into his suburban Maryland office from all over the country, detailing not only how many Americans have died 2,596,993 in 2013 but also the causes of those deaths. Researchers use the information to learn what kills Americans, and public officials use it to craft policies to improve health and safety.

On the best certificates, the information is accurate and complete. That would mean, for example, that the death certificate would say not only...