“Father Tad” is the Director of Education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. The Texas Catholic Conference published his commentary on “DNR’s” on May 10, 2013.
These judgments are tricky to make, because the specifics of each case differ, and those specifics change with time and disease progression. DNR’s should be put in place only when the circumstances warrant it, that is to say, on a case-by-case, patient-specific basis. In other words, when CPR/resuscitation can reasonably be determined to no longer offer a hope of benefit to the patient or if it entails an excessive burden to him, at that time a DNR can be put into place.
Some of the possible burdens that may need to be considered in deciding whether to pursue resuscitative interventions for a patient would include some of the following: the risk of rib or other bone fractures, puncture of the lungs by a broken bone (or from the trauma of lung compression and decompression), bleeding in the center of the chest, cerebral dysfunction or permanent brain damage, the small risk (about 3 or 4 percent) that the patient might end up entering a vegetative state, and subsequent complications if the patient ends up staying on a ventilator for an extended period following the resuscitation.
During resuscitative efforts, elderly patients are more likely to experience complications or to have ribs break during CPR. Younger patients, on the other hand, tend to show a greater resilience and are often better able to tolerate CPR. Patients suffering from advanced cancer are also known to fare poorly following resuscitative efforts.
In terms of overall statistics, when a patient codes in the hospital and all resuscitative measures are taken, patients frequently do not end up leaving the hospital, especially when they are elderly or have other co-accompanying conditions. Based on data from the National Registry of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (NRCPR), studies have determined that patients who undergo cardiac arrest in the hospital have an overall survival to discharge rate of about 17 percent. The rate drops even lower (to around 13 percent) for cancer patients. In other words, the benefits are oftentimes few and short-lived, while the burdens tend to be high. There are, of course, exceptions — while many patients do not experience significant benefits from resuscitative measures, a small percentage do.
So when death is imminent, and disease states are very advanced (perhaps with multiple organ failure), and assuming other spiritual matters, such as last sacraments, have been addressed, a DNR order may not raise any moral problems. The key consideration in making the judgment will be to determine whether the benefits of resuscitation outweigh the burdens. So when death is imminent, and disease states are very advanced (perhaps with multiple organ failure), and assuming other spiritual matters, such as last sacraments, have been addressed, a DNR order may not raise any moral problems. The key consideration in making the judgment will be to determine whether the benefits of resuscitation outweigh the burdens.
DNR orders can be misused, of course, if they are broadly construed as calling on medical professionals to abandon or otherwise discontinue all care of a patient. Even as patients may be declining and dying of serious underlying illnesses, we must continue to care for them, support and comfort them, and use the various ordinary means that they may have been relying on, such as heart and blood pressure medications, diuretics, insulin, etc.
We should always seek to do what is ethically “ordinary” or “proportionate” in providing care for our loved ones, though we are never obligated to choose anything that would be heroic, disproportionate or unduly burdensome when it comes to CPR or other resuscitative measures.
An opponent of SB 303 and I have been discussing the Bill on an earlier post. She referred to my “list of endorsements.” This is a fairly strong list of endorsements, at least for those of us who are believers, don’t you think?
The Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission is ” is pleased that SB 303 was recently voted out of the senate.”
Texas Catholic Bishops letter to members of the Texas House of Representatives urging support for SB 303
The Morality and Wisdom of Incremental Legislation: The Case for SB 303 by Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D.
Texas Catholics Bishops Conference been very active over in the many efforts over the years to reform of the Texas Advance Directive Act and all have signed the endorsement strongly urging passage of SB303 http://www.txcatholic.org/press-releases/336-texas-catholic-bishops-strongly-urge-house-vote-on-end-of-life-care.
I’ve relied on the National Catholic Bioethics Center ( Marie Hilliard and Father Tad) for their consistent and coherent efforts to preserve traditional medical ethics. NCBC has also endorsed the Bill, and written an excellent response to criticism of SB303.
Added 5/11/13 at 11:00 AM, more endorsements and information:
The opponents of Senate Bill 303 may not realize it, but they are promoting the very thing they claim to oppose: elevating the patient’s right to determine his own care above the doctor’s conscience will result in doctors who practice medicine without consciences.
The consequences of elevating autonomy above non-maleficence (“first do not harm”) go to the very heart of medical ethics. In fact, the promotion of patient autonomy is the common justification for euthanasia and elective abortion on demand.
The doctor is the one whose hands, conscience, and medical judgment will be writing the orders for or actually carrying out the resuscitation. Just as it’s not ethical to force doctors to cause the death of patients, it’s not ethical to demand that doctors write orders and perform interventions when their medical judgment indicates that the intervention will not be successful and will increase pain and suffering while prolonging the process of death.
As ethicist Gilbert Meilaendar noted at the President’s Bioethics Council Meeting in September 12, 2008,
[T]he reason for a physician being willing to risk his life in an epidemic was precisely that he didn’t think staying alive was the most important thing, that there was something else that was morally more compelling and obligatory even than preserving his existence. And that would have something to do with the personal integrity that you seem willing to think may be — one should be willing to set aside in embracing what one thinks is evil.
Here’s an excellent professional article about end of life care for patients that’s relevant to our discussion about SB 303.
Two Roads to Death
Two major pathways to death have been described: The easy and the difficult road Figure 1. Depending on the road a patient takes, the intensity of ED management may vary significantly. For instance, some patients are highly symptomatic at the EOL, requiring intravenous medications and even continuous drips to maintain comfort while others can be managed by relatively simple oral regimens in the home setting, with the support of hospice services.For symptoms like pain, the EM skill set proves sufficient as the management of healthy patients and those at the EOL is similar. EM treatment algorithms are less relevant, however, for symptoms like dehydration, delirium and dyspnea in the dying patient. For this reason, we will focus our attention on the unique approach to these common and often troublesome EOL issues.
The Texas Advance Directive Act of 1999 (TADA) describes “Advance Directives to Physicians” (what most people would call a “Living Will”) and contains Section 166.046, an attempt to outline the procedure for resolving a disagreement between a doctor and patients or their surrogates about what is medically appropriate treatment.
The law currently in effect requires the doctor to notify the patient or the surrogate when he or she believes that their request is medically appropriate. If there is still a disagreement, the doctor asks the hospital to convene a meeting of their ethics committee. If the committee agree agrees with the doctor, and no other doctor is willing to take over the care of the patient, the treatment in question can be withheld or withdrawn. TADA doesn’t allow “Physician Assisted Suicide” and certainly doesn’t allow euthanasia, where the patient might be killed on purpose.
The Texas Senate passed Senator Bob Duell’s Senate Bill 303, which significantly improves current law. SB 303
Because SB 303 still needs to pass in the House, Texas Alliance for Life asked me to help them make a video explaining how it reforms current law.
If you agree that SB 303 is a pro-life reform Bill please call your State Representative at 512-463-4630 and ask him or her to support SB 303.
My “Ethics 101” on the law: “Back to Basics on Texas Advance Directive Act”
Texas Senate Passes Pro-Life SB 303 to Help FamiliesProtect Loved Ones Near the End of LifeLt. Governor David Dewhurst and Sen. Donna Campbell M.D. Deserve Thanks!April 24, 2013Dear Larry and Beverly:Very good news! Last week the Texas Senate passed SB 303, a strong pro-life bill that will change current law to help families protect their loved ones near the end of life. Supported by pro-life Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and authored by Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), the full Senate passed SB 303 on a decisive 24-6 vote.Your Texas state senator, Sen. Donna Campbell M.D., voted to support SB 303, a pro-life vote. Please thank Lt. Governor Dewhurst and Sen. Campbell for their support. See sample messages below.SB 303 is strongly supported by broad coalition of pro-life and provider organizations including Texas Alliance for Life, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, and the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.Voting for SB 303 were: Campbell, Carona, Davis, Deuell, Duncan, Ellis, Eltife, Estes, Fraser, Garcia, Hinojosa, Huffman, Lucio, Nelson, Nichols, Rodriguez, Schwertner, Seliger, Uresti, Van de Putte, Watson, West, Whitmire, and Zaffirini.Voting against SB 303 were: Hancock, Hegar, Patrick, Paxton, Taylor, and Williams. Senator Brian Birdwell was absent.
Prevents secret DNAR orders (“Do Not Attempt Resuscitation”). Current law allows doctors to order DNARs without even notifying the patient or family.
Prevents the involuntary denial of food and water, except in extreme circumstances when the treatment would harm the patient or hasten his or her death.
Increases the time of the dispute resolution process from 12 to 28 days when a family and patient disagree about appropriate end of life care.
Significantly limits the class of patients to whom the dispute resolution process can be applied.
Requires doctors and hospitals to treat all patients “equally without regard to permanent physical or mental disabilities, age, gender, religion, ethnic background, or financial or insurance status.”
Preserves conscience protections so physicians are not required to provide futile or harmful procedures indefinitely.
A great deal of false and misleading information about SB 303 has been spread by several groups, especially by one group in particular that is based in Houston. In response, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops issued a strongly-worded letter to set the record straight. Please see this: http://txcatholic.org/news/327-misstatements-against-end-of-life-care-reform-corrected-in-letter-to-lawmakers
See my earlier post about the rebuke TRTL received from the Texas Catholic Bishops Conference. – http://wp.me/p1FiCk-XW – and an even earlier explanation (long winded, I’m afraid) – http://wp.me/p1FiCk-Wb
Edited 4/27/13 to add that last paragraph – BBN