Doctors in Miami were faced with an ethical conundrum after a man was admitted to the hospital unconscious with a tattoo on his chest reading, “Do Not Resuscitate,” accompanied by his initials, the New England Journal of Medicine reported.
The study said he arrived at the hospital with a history of serious health problems and a high blood alcohol level. He had an infection that led to septic shock. He had no ID and medical staff failed to identify any relatives.
“We had a man I couldn’t talk to,” the study’s author Dr. Gregory Holt told The Washington Post, “and I really wanted to talk to him to see whether that tattoo truly reflected what he wanted for his end of life wishes.”
“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,” the report read. “We initially decided not to honor the tattoo, invoking the principle of not choosing an irreversible path when faced with uncertainty.”
To buy themselves some time, doctors gave him intravenous fluids, antibiotics and blood-pressure medication. But they eventually spoke with an ethics consultant who disagreed with their decision to keep him alive.
“As unorthodox as it is, you do get a dramatic view of what this patient would want,” Ken Goodman, co-director of the University of Miami’s ethics programs told the Atlantic Journal.
Using the man’s fingerprints, social workers were able to find his DNR paperwork supporting his end-of-life wishes.
The unidentified patient died the next morning.
In Florida, patients can choose not to be resuscitated by filling in an official form and printing it on yellow paper. The paper must be yellow to be legally valid.