Doctors Vexed by Patient's Highly Unusual Tattoo

'Do Not Resuscitate,' the man's chest read
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 1, 2017 4:32 PM CST
Doctors Vexed by Patient's Highly Unusual Tattoo
A patient's unusual tattoo presented a legal and ethical conundrum for Florida doctors.   (New England Journal of Medicine)

“We’ve always joked about this, but holy crap, this man actually did it,” Florida physician Gregory Holt tells the Atlantic. Holt and a team of emergency room doctors were preparing to treat a 70-year-old man who was brought into Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital unconscious, with septic shock, difficulty breathing, and a high amount of alcohol in his system when they discovered a tattoo reading "Do Not Resuscitate" on his chest. The "Not" was underlined, and the man's signature was tattooed below. What happened next was documented in a case study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study states the tattoo "produced more confusion than clarity" and "might represent permanent reminders of regretted decisions made while the person was intoxicated."

Initially, Holt and the doctors ignored the tattoo. "You pick the choice that's not irreversible," Holt explains. But an ethics consultant advised the doctors to heed the tattoo. "Someone does not go to the trouble of getting such a tattoo without forethought and mindfulness," the University of Miami's Ken Goodman says. But that's exactly what happened in a 2012 case study, the Washington Post reports. A 59-year-old man had "D.N.R." tattooed on his chest but was fortunately conscious to explain to doctors that it was only there because he "lost a bet playing poker." Holt and the other doctors were eventually bailed out when case workers located an official DNR request for the patient, who died the following day. Holt says the whole situation shows him "we need a better system." (More tattoos stories.)

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