Unconscious Man's 'Do Not Resuscitate' Tattoo Baffled Doctors: What Was The Right Thing To Do?

By Aaron Mamiit | Dec 03, 2017 03:21 AM EST

An unconscious man wreaked havoc in a Miami hospital because of a "Do Not Resuscitate" tattoo on his chest that even included his signature.

Emergency medicine doctors were baffled on what to do in the situation, as they were unsure if the request not to be resuscitated should be honored even if it was in tattoo form.

'Do Not Resuscitate' Tattoo Baffles Miami Hospital

The University of Miami Hospital presented the unusual case in the New England Journal of Medicine, narrating the events that transpired and how the doctors handled the dilemma surrounding the "Do Not Resuscitate" tattoo.

The 70-year-old man was brought to the emergency room by paramedics with elevated levels of blood alcohol. The patient was believed to have a history of a lung disease known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, an irregular heart rate, and diabetes.

Without an ID on him, the medical staff was not able to identify and contact the man's family members. After a few hours had passed, his condition started to worsen, with declining blood pressure and acids building up in the man's blood.

According to the case report, the doctors of University of Miami Hospital initially decided to go against the tattoo, even as it was facing them while working on the patient. There was the possibility that the man got the tattoo while he was drunk, but there was also the chance that it was a direct message. Were they doing the right thing?

What Happened To The Man With The 'Do Not Resuscitate' Tattoo?

After the patient was stabilized, the doctors decided to call in ethics consultants on what they should do. Do Not Resuscitate requests were usually formal documents, so the question was whether a tattoo was a legal document.

The ethics consultants advised the doctors to honor the Do Not Resuscitate tattoo, as they suggested that it was most reasonable to think that the request was an authentic one.

Fortunately, social workers were able to locate information on the patient. Among the documents that they pulled out was a copy of a Do Not Resuscitate order that the man filed with the Florida Department of Health.

The man's health deteriorated over that night until he passed away. Doctors honored his unusual Do Not Resuscitate request, as they did not conduct cardiopulmonary respiration or advanced airway management procedures on the patient.

University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman admitted that it was a challenging case. Tattoos may not be representative of a patient's current thinking, but he added that the messages comes strong and clear if a man was willing to go to the extremes of having his Do Not Resuscitate request tattooed.

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