We don't need unilateral DNRs: taking informed non-dissent one step further

J Med Ethics. 2019 May;45(5):314-317. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2018-105305. Epub 2019 Mar 6.


Although shared decision-making is a standard in medical care, unilateral decisions through process-based conflict resolution policies have been defended in certain cases. In patients who do not stand to receive proportional clinical benefits, the harms involved in interventions such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation seem to run contrary to the principle of non-maleficence, and provision of such interventions may cause clinicians significant moral distress. However, because the application of these policies involves taking choices out of the domain of shared decision-making, they face important ethical and legal problems, including a recent challenge to their constitutionality. In light of these concerns, we suggest a re-conceptualization of informed non-dissent as an alternative approach in cases where the application of process-based policies is being considered. This clinician-directed communication model still preserves what is valuable in such policies and salvages professional integrity, while minimising ethical and legal challenges.

Keywords: clinical ethics; end-of-life; ethics committees/consultation.

MeSH terms

  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / ethics*
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / psychology
  • Decision Making, Shared
  • Dissent and Disputes
  • Ethics Consultation
  • Family / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Resuscitation Orders / ethics*
  • Withholding Treatment / ethics*