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Unconscious man with ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ tattoo sparks dilemma

The patient had no identification or family with him and doctors originally chose to ignore the tattoo until speaking with an ethics consultant


By EMS1 Staff

MIAMI — An unconscious man with a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ tattoo across his chest was recently admitted to a Florida hospital, sparking an ethical dilemma for doctors.

CNN reported that the patient had a history of health problems and a high blood alcohol content level. Originally, doctors chose to ignore the tattoo and attempted to save his life, according to a newly published study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

An unconscious man with a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ tattoo across his chest was recently admitted to a Florida hospital. (Photo/NEJM)
An unconscious man with a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ tattoo across his chest was recently admitted to a Florida hospital. (Photo/NEJM)

"We initially decided not to honor the tattoo, invoking the principle of not choosing an irreversible path when faced with uncertainty," the study said.

After speaking with the hospital’s ethics consultant, the doctors changed their decision.

"They suggested that it was most reasonable to infer that the tattoo expressed an authentic preference, that what might be seen as caution could also be seen as standing on ceremony, and that the law is sometimes not nimble enough to support patient-centered care and respect for patients' best interests," the study said.

Additionally, the hospital was able to find a copy of the patient’s “out-of-hospital” do not resuscitate order.

The study’s authors said they were "relieved to find his written DNR request." A do not resuscitate order was issued, and the patient died.

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