Do Not Resuscitate

Today in class Professor McCoy shared an article about an unconscious patient with a do not resuscitate tattoo across his chest. In the article a man showed up to the emergency room with a number of health problems and an interesting tattoo of “Do Not Resuscitate” with his signature below. The attending medical staff was torn on how to handle the situation. In the beginning they continued to give him care, “invoking the principle of not choosing an irreversible path when faced with uncertainty” (Med 2). They decided to call in an ethicist for advice and they ruled to favor the patients wishes. This article is a great example of the crosswalk between literature and medicine. It deals with language use and interpretation of language as well as the importance of language in a medical setting. This issue also touches on the idea of consent which we particularly covered in Fortune’s Bones, Clay’s Ark, Medical Apartheid and Home.

In order to continue further with this post I think it would be especially useful if I gave you all a definition of what “Do not Resuscitate” means. According to the Cleveland Clinic “A “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order indicates that a person — usually with a terminal illness or other serious medical condition — has decided not to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) attempted in the event his or her heart or breathing stops.” It’s very powerful to think that these three words have the power to end someone’s life. Based on this definition it seems to me that there is not much room for interpretation when these three words are used in the health care setting. From a medical standpoint DNR strictly means that no CPR should be performed on the patient per their wishes. However, I interpret ‘DNR’ as much more than not performing a procedure. A patient that has decided to use “DNR” no doubt had to have an internal conflict. Unfortunately something tragic or horrible in their life led them to make the decision. I interpret DNR as a patient choosing what they believe is their best future. This leads into my second point of discussion, consent.

DNR is a way for a patient to legally consent that they do not want to be saved. A DNR order has to be signed off by a physician to ensure that someone discussed the benefits and cons of the decision. In Fortune’s Bones there was the quote “You can own a man’s body, but you can’t own his mind” (Nelson 25). This quote represents exactly the type of consent that is happening when a patient decides to use a DNR order. They are consenting to let someone else take over their body while “owning” their mind. In the article discussed at the beginning of this blog post the patient clearly gave his consent to a DNR by tattooing “Do Not Resuscitate” along with his signature. A tattoo is a permanent marking and to take that measure he was ensuring that nobody “owned his mind”. He wanted to make his consent clear even when he was not physically able to do so. I am very happy that in the end the medical professionals decided to honor the man’s wishes and I hope he rests in peace.

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