What Can You Do If a Doctor Ignores Your a Do Not Resuscitate Order?

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It is extraordinarily challenging for most people to talk about end-of-life care and their wishes regarding these matters. In fact, it is also challenging to talk about the difficult end-of-life choices that have to be made in the event that a loved one becomes unable to make their own choices. However, these are tough conversations that should be had sooner rather than later to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding a do not resuscitate order. Knowing if a patient wants to be resuscitated or not when the time comes is a very important matter from both a medical and legal standpoint. 

The Daily Beast recently reported on a survey conducted in which physicians were asked what their preferences were for their end-of-life care:

A new study in the online journal PLOS One reports that most of my fellow physicians feel the same way. The authors of the study surveyed over a thousand doctors, and just over 88 percent of them reported wanting an advance directive that would stipulate “do not resuscitate” (or DNR) status at the ends of their lives. I would have answered precisely the same way.

Although this particular survey was limited to physicians, who presumably have more intimate knowledge of end-of-life care than most, it is not surprising that an overwhelming majority of people would prefer not to be resuscitated if it came down to it. However, some doctors and other medical personnel sometimes ignore a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order even when they are aware of the patient’s wishes. This is why people need to know what steps to take next if a do not resuscitate order order is ignored in regards to themselves or a loved one. 

Why Might a Doctor Ignore a Do Not Resuscitate Order?

On the surface, a DNR order seems pretty clear cut. The patient has expressed their wishes to not be resuscitated should they need to be. However, there are some reasons why a doctor might feel it is unethical to honor this wish. Doctors have cited some of the following reasons why they ignore a DNR order on certain patients:

 It Is Against the Policy at the Facility

Not all hospitals honor do not resuscitate orders at all. Certain facilities may decline to honor a DNR order under all circumstances. If possible, it is best to contact the facility ahead of time to see if they have a do not resuscitate order policy. If they do, you may be asked to sign paperwork that clearly expresses your wishes. If you are unable to make these decisions on your own, the law permits a next of kin to make these choices for you in most jurisdictions. 

It Is Easy for the Doctor To Resuscitate You and Bring You Back to Life

Imagine the scenario where your body has an allergic reaction to an anesthesia drug. Perhaps you received this drug as part of a routine procedure that was in no way supposed to be life-threatening. If that is the case, then it would be seemingly unethical for the doctor to not resuscitate you even if you have a DNR order on file. The DNR is thought to apply more to life-threatening situations in which there is little to no hope of bringing you back to your fully-functional self. Since that is not the case with a routine procedure, your doctor may choose to resuscitate you even if it is technically against your wishes. 

It Goes Against Their Own Moral Code

This one is a little tricky, but some doctors have their own moral code that won’t allow them to not do everything in their power to bring a patient back to life. Most people are familiar with the fact that doctors take a Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. However, what that oath means to each doctor differs. Many believe that honoring a DNR order is the best way to do not harm, but others insist that they must do everything in their power to keep someone alive. Additionally, some doctors have religious objections to not bringing a patient back to life if they can.

As you can see, there are a number of reasons why you or a loved one may see a do not resuscitate order completely ignored. However, you might have legal recourse should this occur. If you feel that a doctor improperly ignored a do not resuscitate orderorder, you should seek an attorney immediately. 

How Can an Attorney Help?

Professional nurse using a medical computer to check DNR status.
Professional nurse using a medical computer.

Patients have a legal right to refuse medical treatment if they wish. Doctors are not allowed to play God with the lives of their patients just because they think that they know better than those patients. When a doctor oversteps his or her bounds and ignores a DNR order, it is time to hire an attorney to bring a lawsuit against the hospital and against that doctor as an individual. 

Physicians Weekly recently produced a report about a jury awarding $400,000 to the estate of a man who had a clearly marked DNR code on his chart and was also wearing a bracelet indicating his do not resuscitate order status when his life was “wrongfully prolonged”. The patient had a lengthy history of medical issues, including issues with heart failure and chronic pain. He had made his wishes clear to the hospital and its staff, but because of some confusion about what those wishes were, CPR was performed on him when he was found collapsed in a hospital bathroom. This life-saving measure prolonged his life, but at the cost of a great deal of pain and suffering. 

Cases Inclusing a Do Not Resuscitate Order

In this case, the jury ultimately found that the actions of the hospital staff were wrong because they were going against the clearly expressed wishes of the patient. The CPR that was performed on him did lengthen his life, but his quality of life was greatly diminished. Thus, the surviving family felt that the only responsible thing they could do was file a lawsuit against the hospital. 

Attorneys assisted in this case by gathering statements from everyone involved in the incident, collecting relevant medical records, reviewing the applicable areas of the law, and informing their clients about what they are doing during each step of the process. 

Learn More About Doctors Ignoring a Do Not Resuscitate Order

The goal in most cases is to obtain a reasonable settlement that all parties can agree to. This may involve a sum of money that the family deems to be acceptable, and it might even involve receiving an apology from the hospital (though this is not guaranteed). If the hospital believes that its staff took the appropriate steps in a particular case, then they may decide to fight it out in court. This will prolong the affair, but a quality attorney can continue to fight the case until the bitter end. 

For more information on how an attorney can help in a Do Not Resuscitate case, please contact us

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