Mixed Messages or One Clear Message?

The article Professor McCoy presented to us, An Unconscious Patient with a DNR Tattoo definitely caught my attention. I first read about the issue when it was highlighted on Twitter over this past weekend, and it has been floating around my mind ever since.

To briefly summarize the article, an unconscious man with a history of diseases was brought into the intensive care unit of the hospital. The doctors identified a tattoo on the mans chest that read “Do Not Resuscitate.” It had his signature beneath it. The doctors were left in an ethical bind. Do they resuscitate him? Do they try to keep him alive? They ultimately decided to comply with the wishes of the tattoo, with the support of ethics consultants that agreed to do the same. The man could not be tied to any identification or family. They were relieved to later find the tattoo sided with his actual wishes.

Now, I’m blatantly not a doctor, nor am i well versed within the medical world, but this is such an interesting situation that raises many questions.

A man’s life is literally at stake. Any decision to be made must be made within a few minutes, and will result in the loss of a human life or the saving of it. Is a tattoo legally binding? What does a tattoo even mean? Though in this case, the tattoo looked relatively new, people get tattoos for a billion different reasons. Tattoos can be meaningless, or lose meaning over time. People can get tattoos when they are drunk. In the article, the doctors said, “We initially decided not to honor the tattoo, invoking the principle of not choosing an irreversible path when faced with uncertainty.” I thought this very interesting. Essentially, the doctors were going to save this man, because that tattoo was not necessarily a clear message. When faced with this kind of confusion, they were innately going to save the man rather than not knowing what he wanted, and potentially killing him.

Like Avery so intelligently noted in her blog post entitled, “Consent: Does “Yes” Really Mean “Yes?”

this really ties into the overarching idea of consent, an issue that has popped up constantly in our classroom. What actually qualifies as consent? Can a tattoo speak for itself? This article definitely highlights that humans always have the right to give consent (or not give consent) even at the moment that they are not conscious.

This almost takes me back to Fortune’s Bones by Marilyn Nelson. Fortune was a slave owned by Doctor Preserved Porter. When Fortune died, Porter dissected Fortune’s Bones and used his skeleton for anatomical studies. His skeleton was later donated and put on display at the Mattatuck Museum. Little about Fortune’s true identity was known. In the Author’s Note, Fortune says, “You are not your body.” (Page 9) The book very clearly highlights the dilemma of consent and Fortune was unable to give consent both when he was alive and when he was dead.

I don’t think anyone here would say that people are not entitled to consent, but what do you guys think about The “Do not Resuscitate” article? Did the doctors do the right thing by obliging with the tattoo?

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