Would physicians override a do-not-resuscitate order when a cardiac arrest is iatrogenic?

J Gen Intern Med. 1999 Jan;14(1):35-8. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.1999.00278.x.


Objective: To assess whether physicians would be more likely to override a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order when a hypothetical cardiac arrest is iatrogenic.

Design: Mailed survey of 358 practicing physicians.

Setting: A university-affiliated community teaching hospital.

Participants: Of 358 physicians surveyed, 285 (80%) responded.

Measurements and main results: Each survey included three case descriptions in which a patient negotiates a DNR order, and then suffers a cardiac arrest. The arrests were caused by the patient's underlying disease, by an unexpected complication of treatment, and by the physician's error. Physicians were asked to rate the likelihood that they would attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation for each case description. Physicians indicated that they would be unlikely to override a DNR order when the arrest was caused by the patient's underlying disease (mean score 2.55 on a scale from 1 "certainly would not" to 7 "certainly would"). Physicians reported they would be much more likely to resuscitate when the arrest was due to a complication of treatment (5.24 vs 2. 55; difference 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.44, 2.91; p <.001), and that they would be even more likely to resuscitate when the arrest was due to physician error (6.32 vs 5.24; difference 95% CI 0. 88, 1.20; p <.001). Eight percent, 29%, and 69% of physicians, respectively, said that they "certainly would" resuscitate in these three vignettes (p <.001).

Conclusions: Physicians may believe that DNR orders do not apply to iatrogenic cardiac arrests and that patients do not consider the possibility of an iatrogenic arrest when they negotiate a DNR order. Physicians may also believe that there is a greater obligation to treat when an illness is iatrogenic, and particularly when an illness results from the physician's error. This response to iatrogenic cardiac arrests, and its possible generalization to other iatrogenic complications, deserves further consideration and discussion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Advance Directive Adherence*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Decision Making*
  • Ethics, Clinical*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Female
  • Heart Arrest / etiology*
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Iatrogenic Disease*
  • Male
  • Medication Errors
  • Resuscitation Orders*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires