An unconscious 70-year-old man was rushed to an emergency room in Miami, Florida, earlier this year. He had no identification, family or friends with him when he arrived. However, he had a tattoo across his chest that said “Do Not Resuscitate.” It included a signature. The man’s ink left doctors in an ethical dilemma — save the man’s life or honor the tattoo and let him die? The case was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday.
“This patient’s tattooed DNR request produced more confusion than clarity, given concerns about its legality and likely unfounded beliefs that tattoos might represent permanent reminders of regretted decisions made while the person was intoxicated,” one of the paper’s author, Gregory Holt, a doctor at the University of Miami Hospital, wrote.
The article said the man, who had a history of pulmonary disease, was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital in a deteriorating condition that turned deadly. Doctors first decided not to honor the unusual DNR request “invoking the principle of not choosing an irreversible path when faced with uncertainty,” according to the study.
Ethics consultants soon advised the doctors that the tattoo likely represented his wishes and should be honored. The consultants told the physicians that “the law is sometimes not nimble enough to support patient-centered care and respect for patients’ best interest,” according to the doctors.
After a DNR order was written, officials found an official copy of the man’s DNR order from the Florida Department of Health. He died overnight without further lifesaving efforts, the doctors write. “We were relieved to find his written DNR request, especially because a review of the literature identified a case report of a person whose DNR tattoo did not reflect his current wishes,” the doctors added.
Source: The Atlantic