In an article
in today's Boston Globe
, reporter Alice Dembner relates some surprising stories and statistics about the inefficacy of DNR orders in major hospitals. Here's part of it:
Studies estimate about 20 percent of Americans have some form of "advance directive," including living wills that describe a patient's wishes and health-care proxies that designate another individual to make decisions for the patient. DNRs are written by a doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician's assistant to spell out a dying patient's decision to refuse CPR and mechanical help with breathing. When DNRs are not honored, the problem is that sometimes doctors trained to save lives disagree with the DNR decision.
"There's still a fair number of doctors around who are uncomfortable with patients being DNR," said Dr. David Clive, chairman of the ethics committee at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. "It may be for personal or religious reasons or it may be their medical opinion that the patient is not sufficiently ill to warrant the DNR order. But it's important to realize that if the patient is competent, they rule the day, not the physician."
Doctors at odds with a patient on a DNR typically try to negotiate a resolution, Clive said. But at UMass, a doctor who decides against following a patient's explicit wishes is required to transfer the patient to another doctor.
More commonly, researchers and advocates said a mistaken resuscitation of a patient happens because of a communication failure.
Many doctors are uncomfortable discussing death and they avoid asking patients what they want. Even if patients and doctors have the conversation and the doctor issues a DNR order, that order isn't automatically shared with a hospital or ambulance service.
Darned good thing the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners requires an hour of ethics instruction each year! Don't you wish your state did, too?