Over in the UK, doctors tried to withhold resuscitation from a terminal cancer patient without discussing the matter with her or close family members. From the Daily News column by the victim, Sally Farmiloe:

The instruction on my medical notes was unequivocal: if I fell unconscious, if my heart stopped beating, I should not be resuscitated. There would be no attempt to save my life: instead, nature should take its course. For a few seconds I turned the words over in my mind, struggling to grasp their enormity. Then, as their meaning engulfed me, it was as if an icy hand had grasped my heart. If I stopped breathing, I would simply be left to die.

Do Not Resuscitate Orders are a legitimate part of medicine. But they should be agreed to by patients/family/duly appointed patient surrogates.

Unfortunately, UK law allows doctors to impose a DNR if the patient can’t communicate, with only an attempt at discussion with family, who can be distant relatives. Rather than speak to Farmiloe’s daughter who was nearby, doctors called in in-law who didn’t understand her intense desire to fight.

Doctors said she wouldn’t live this long. But she has beat the odds and wants the law of DNR changed:

For the guidelines which govern DNR orders state that if you are unable to make and communicate this vital decision on your own — if your faculties are impaired or you are terribly confused, as I was — then the decision will be made for you by doctors, who should discuss the issue with your family.

Extraordinarily, this does not have to be your next of kin. I did not authorise the DNR order — I was far too ill to think cogently. But I know absolutely that, even in my weaked state, I would have wanted to fight with every fibre of my being.

She says rightly that should be her decision, not that of doctors:

There must, I believe, be safer ways of administering DNR orders. Even those who appear to be on the brink of death can confound the wisest of doctors. I have proved as much. And I intend to continue to defy anyone who suggests that because I have terminal cancer I am dying. I am not. I have a lot more living to do yet.

I am not looking down my nose. For example, last year I helped defeat a Texas bill that would have explicitly authorized unilateral imposition of DNR.

I should have said “delayed” instead of “defeated.” The idea isn’t going away, particularly given Obamacare’s pending cost/benefit medical technocracy.

If you do or don’t want DNR, be sure and prepare a durable power of attorney for health care to better ensure that your wishes–rather than that of strangers–will determine whether you receive a potentially life-saving course.

Author Profile

Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC
Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC