After a manuscript was accepted, an author passed away before they could complete the conflict of interest statement and copyright transfer documents. The publishing company requires that all authors complete these documents prior to publishing.
The other authors do not want to remove the deceased author from the manuscript.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum
- Who has the authority to complete these documents for the deceased author?
- Are there any special notations that should be made in the manuscript?
The Forum asked for clarification from the editor regarding when in the publication cycle the author died and did the author see the final version of the submitted and accepted article? The editor told the Forum that the author had seen the final accepted version. Hence the Forum agreed that it seems reasonable that the author should remain on the byline. It would be possible to ask his next of kin or executor to verify the conflict of interest (COI) statement to obtain a notarized statement, if that is required, if the editor is not comfortable taking an informal statement from the co-authors.
For the journal, there are three components: clarifying the COI statement, fulfilling the authorship criteria and signing the copyright agreement. There is still a non-financial aspect to potential COIs, which seems to be difficult to ascertain with certainty.
For the purposes of transparency, it would be useful for the editor to add a statement or footnote on the paper, including the date of death in relation to participation in authorship and a statement to the effect that to the best of their ability, the journal has determined there was no COI. It is questionable that the deceased author would benefit from any COI. Further, the Forum agreed that COIs, leading to bias in the work, would have been uncovered at the time of grant funding or peer review of the manuscript.
The Forum applauded the editor’s due diligence in handling this matter.
The corresponding author contacted the deceased author’s widower, who was also a medical journal editor. As he understood the issues, and knew of the decedent’s work, he was able to meaningfully sign the copyright agreement and declaration of conflicts of interest.
The journal did not publish a note in the paper indicating that the author was deceased as the authors decided not to include such a statement. The journal could have posted such a notice with the article had it been felt there was a need to explain about copyright or conflicts, but in this case, it was felt this was not necessary.