You are in the middle of cooking dinner and unwinding from a long day when you suddenly get a sharp pain in your chest. You are unable to call out as you collapse and blackout. The next morning you wake up in a hospital bed attached to wires and a little delirious. A family member informs you that you had died and the doctors managed to bring you back to life. Great, right? In most cases, many would be happy, however in the case of a Miami man the story is a little different.
A 70-year-old Miami man had “Do Not Resuscitate” tattooed on his chest when he appeared at the hospital. So, when the doctors saw the tattoo, they began to question what they should do. They did not know who this man was, let alone how to reach his relatives. While they searched for more information to help them decide what to do, they bought themselves time by giving him antibiotics, blood pressure medicine, and fluids. At this point, they also met with their ethics counselors as they struggled to decide. The doctors were starting to choose not to attend to the tattoo because life decisions can always change while tattoos are permanent. The ethics counselors said they should honor the tattoo. The question remained, should they honor the words on his chest or ignore them?
An interesting dilemma, yet in this case they were able to resolve the issue. They took the unknown man’s fingerprints and ran them through the Florida drivers license database and came up with his identity. From there, they looked up his file at the hospital and found that he had filled out a Do Not Resuscitate form. They also discovered that this man had a history of serious health problems including COPD, diabetes, and irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation). When he reached the hospital, he had high blood alcohol levels and an infection that led to septic shock. Once doctors established that his tattoo corroborated with the DNR form they honored it. Throughout the night the man’s condition deteriorated, and he died without undergoing CPR. But a simple tattoo like his was not legally binding.
In this case, the doctors neither supported nor disagreed with the tattoo’s message. They resolved this issue in this case, yet one can’t help but to question what would they decide if they hadn’t found the paperwork.