Do Not Resuscitate, Anesthesia, and Perioperative Care: A Not So Clear Order

Ochsner J. 2016 Summer;16(2):176-9.


Background: Advance directives guide healthcare providers to listen to and respect patients' wishes regarding their right to die in circumstances when cardiopulmonary resuscitation is required, and hospitals accredited by The Joint Commission are required to have a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) policy in place. However, when surgery and anesthesia are necessary for the care of the patient with a DNR order, this advance directive can create ethical dilemmas specifically involving patient autonomy and the physician's responsibility to do no harm.

Methods: This paper discusses the ethical considerations regarding perioperative DNR orders and provides guidance on how to handle situations that may arise in the conduct of perioperative care.

Results: Because of the potential conflicts between ethical care and the restrictions of DNR orders, it is critically important to discuss the medical and ethical issues surrounding this clinical scenario with the patient or surrogate prior to any surgical intervention. However, many anesthesiologists do not adequately address this ethical dilemma prior to the procedure.

Conclusion: Practitioners are advised to first consider what is best for the patient and, when in doubt, to communicate with patients or surrogates and with colleagues to arrive at the most appropriate care plan. If irreconcilable conflicts arise, consultation with the institution's bioethics committee, if available, is beneficial to help reach a resolution.

Keywords: Ethics; ethics consultation; perioperative care; resuscitation orders.

Publication types

  • Review