For centuries the law has accepted the cessation of heartbeat and respiration as the determination of death, but now the heart can be removed, the breathing stopped and blood pumped by machines without preventing the individual's resumption of lucid consciousness. The Manitoba legislature, in its Vital Statistics Act (1975), provided the first statutory definition of death in Canada: "For all purposes within the legislative competence of the Legislature of Manitoba the death of a person takes place at the time at which irreversible cessation of all that person's brain function occurs."
In 1981 the Law Reform Commission of Canada recommended that Parliament enact this provision in the Interpretation Act: "For all purposes within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada, a person is dead when an irreversible cessation of all that person's brain functions has occurred." As of 1999, this recommendation had not been enacted into federal law.
Rules relating to the registration of death vary from province to province, but generally, when death occurs an appropriate person, eg, a relative, must complete an official form for the district registrar. At the same time a certificate of the cause of death must be completed and sent to the district registrar either by a doctor or, in suspicious circumstances, by a coroner. Morticians need certificates in order to bury a body.