DNR tattoo leaves doctors with life-or-death dilemma

WASHINGTON • A Florida hospital faced an ethical quandary when paramedics brought in an unconscious patient with "Do Not Resuscitate" (DNR) tattooed across his chest - leaving doctors grappling with whether it accurately conveyed his end-of-life wishes.

The 70-year-old man was admitted to the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami with respiratory problems, a high blood alcohol concentration and no identification documents, according to the doctors' report published last Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Doctors said they "initially decided not to honour the tattoo, invoking the principle of not choosing an irreversible path when faced with uncertainty".

But considering the patient might have gone to extreme lengths to ensure his will was understood - the word "Not" on his chest was underlined, and the message included his signature - medical personnel requested an ethics consultation.

Doctors, meanwhile, gave the man basic care while they considered the life-or-death choice.

The consultants suggested "it was most reasonable to infer that the tattoo expressed an authentic preference". Doctors opted to follow the advice, and the man died during the night.

Social workers eventually found a copy of the man's "out-of-hospital" DNR order from the state's health department - and doctors were "relieved" that it was consistent with the tattoo.

The Miami medical team had hesitated due to a 2012 case of a 59-year-old man who was hospitalised with "DNR" on his chest. The patient later confirmed the tattoo was not indicative of his wishes, saying it was simply the result of a bet made during his youth while intoxicated.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 03, 2017, with the headline 'DNR tattoo leaves doctors with life-or-death dilemma'. Print Edition | Subscribe