Science & Tech

Here's how you could be declared dead when you're actually alive

Here's how you could be declared dead when you're actually alive
Woman feared husband had cheated after newborn wrongly diagnosed with STD

Being declared dead when you are still alive can come with significant ramifications if that error is made, but there are actually three scenarios in which you could be declared officially dead despite being alive.

Of course, rare bureaucratic errors can occur – this was the case for one Utah woman who had to fight to prove she isn't dead after she was accidentally declared dead by the federal government. Another error saw a 45-year-old electrician declared dead after a car accident, only later to be found alive in the mortuary freezer.

But, there are some extreme circumstances in which scientists say your body could appear officially dead.

Cold water

Immersion in cold water can cause the heart to slow down so much that it mimics the signs of death.

Professor Stephen Hughes from Anglia Ruskin University explained that doctors are taught that a person presumed drowned is “not proven dead until they have been warmed up”.

This is because being in cold water can cause an instant decrease in skin temperature which initiates shivering, increases metabolism, ventilation, heart rate, and cardiac output. Then, as the core temperature falls all of these processes begin to slow significantly.

The temperature can also have an impact on kidney function which can reduce the amount of fluids in the body’s tissues.

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The body experiencing severe shock can also mimic signs of death. A shock severe enough can induce fainting and could falsely suggest premature death.

This is because fainting can trigger the vagus nerve – the system that controls specific body functions such as digestion, heart rate and immune system. Fainting can cause it to slow down the heart rate and reduce blood flow in the body.


Some drugs used for sedation have the ability to slow down circulation and breathing as well as a person’s responsiveness.

Hughe’s explained: “Later on, as the drug is cleared from the body, the person may wake up.”

In very rare cases, drugs used to treat anxiety, diazepam and alprazolam, have both resulted in people being wrongly declared dead when they are, in fact, alive.

In one bizarre missing person case, a man was found alive and well after being "cremated" eight months prior. A body matching the missing man's description had led his family to organise a funeral and cremation beofore authoriites discovered that the corpse was not his.

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