Dec 042017

When a patient is suffering a life-threatening condition and is rushed to the hospital, doctors are supposed to do everything in their power to save a life. That’s how it works most of the time anyway, but when an unconscious elderly man showed up in the emergency room with “Do Not Resuscitate” tattooed across his chest, medical staff were left struggling to decide what to do.

The case, which is detailed in a recent installment of the New England Journal of Medicine, centers around an unresponsive diabetic patient who arrived at a Florida hospital with an elevated blood-alcohol level. University of Miami doctors began working to save his life immediately, but were taken aback by the words they saw written below the man’s collarbone.

In many states, including Florida, any individual of sound mind can choose to meet their maker and forego medical treatment in the event of a life-threatening accident, illness, or ailment. Individuals choose that route for a variety of reasons, including religious beliefs, the desire to avoid being dependent on machine-aided life support, and even due to the potential burden of surviving the ordeal and being left with a mountain of medical debt. Unfortunately, a tattoo isn’t exactly a legal document, and doctors were left with an ethical conundrum.

Was the tattoo just a joke? Or perhaps a decision he had made in his youth which he had since changed his mind about? The staff had no way of knowing, and the unresponsive patient obviously couldn’t clear things up for them. At least one prior case of a “Do Not Resuscitate” tattoo, the man’s life was saved when the doctors ignored the message, and the patient later explained that the tattoo was merely a joke that he didn’t think anyone would take seriously.


This got me thinking about what I would want as a tattoo that provided doctors information about treatment. Especially as I had a bit of a scare recently when a dog ran out in front of my bicycle and I was thrown head first. Lost consciousness and somehow managed walking my bike home with no memory of this. Spent less than a day in the hospital, and although being rather banged up with some internal bleeding initially, I am fine now.

My inclination would not be for “Do Not Resuscitate”, but more of a worry towards being denied proper care. In this age it seems to me that we need to worry more about lack of proper care as the whole Terri Shiavo episode is indelibly etched in my memory. So if I was going to get a tattoo it would be along the lines of not denying me food an water.

Something along this line.

Sure there are distinctions to be made concerning ordinary and extraordinary care. Still getting a tattoo is unlikely for me. After all I have been to Hong Kong four times in various states of inebriation without getting a tattoo, so I am pretty sure I am immune.

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