A couple weeks ago a nurse made international headlines when she refused to perform CPR on an elderly, dying woman in Bakersfield, California. The tape of the frantic 911 dispatcher was played over and over again. Newscasters spoke of the need to expand “good Samaritan” laws. The country was outraged.
Somewhat surprisingly, the woman’s family declined to sue, saying she had wanted no extreme measures to prolong her life.
Extreme measures? It’s just CPR, right?
Maybe not. In some cases, denying CPR may be the most humane option.
The following is a quote from the horrendously enlightening article, How Doctors Die by Dr. Ken Murray. I read it a year ago but it was so profound, it stayed with me. I’ll never forget this:
Some doctors are so afraid of having their Do Not Resuscitate orders ignored that they have NO CODE tattooed on their chests.
What could cause doctors to fear life-saving measures? Here’s an excerpt of one doctor describing resuscitation measures:
The patient will get cut open, perforated with tubes, hooked up to machines, and assaulted with drugs. All of this occurs in the intensive care unit at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a day. What it buys is misery we would not inflict on a terrorist.
Did you know CPR often breaks ribs? I didn’t either. Here’s more:
Feeding into the problem are unrealistic expectations of what doctors can accomplish. Many people think of CPR as a reliable lifesaver when, in fact, the results are usually poor. If a patient suffers from severe illness, old age, or a terminal disease, the odds of a good outcome from CPR are infinitesimal, while the odds of suffering are overwhelming.
This article in Forbes laments the fact that there was no “Do Not Resuscitate” order on file at the home, and I agree. However, even if you have such an order on file with the facility, over-zealous or lawsuit-shy staff may completely disregard them. “Jack,” who had such orders on file only to have them ignored, was lucky enough to be removed from life support by the doctor who wrote this article. The doctor said:
Although he had thoroughly documented his wishes, Jack hadn’t died as he’d hoped. The system had intervened. One of the nurses, I later found out, even reported my actions (i.e. complying with Jack’s DNR orders) as a possible homicide.
It’s difficult to imaging leaving a patient to die without taking measures to revive her. However, I read the Murray article before the Bakersfield incident occurred, and thus my first thought was that the nurse was a hero, courageous enough to honor the patient’s wishes. It’s apparent that the family felt the same way.
But I still kind of feel like getting a tattoo.