Doctors Who Are Playing God
The Doctors Who Are Playing God
As an editor I hear it all… feedback from our readers about personal experiences, questions about illnesses and stories from people who are at their wits end with the treatment (or lack thereof) that they’re receiving from their doctors. I also hear from doctors who are often outraged by the ‘bad rap’ the medical profession sometimes gets from us.
To be honest, when I read these emails I think: It’s true, there are still good doctors out there — the guys who care for their patients with passion and those that follow their profession unselfishly… the ones who still live by the motto ‘First do no harm’ and that aren’t bribed by Big Pharma’s incentives like golf days, expensive lunches or all expenses paid holidays.
But then I read news articles that completely destroy my faith in the medical profession all over again… Like the recent one exposing doctors in hospitals who decide (without consent) whether a patient must live or die…
Imagine you’re very ill and need to be admitted to hospital. You and your family are under the impression that you are in the safe hands of a medical team who will do their utmost to get you back on your feet in no time… A week later, you pass away. When the coroner phones your family to tell them what the cause of your death was, he gently asks whether you had been aware that ‘Do Not Attempt Resuscitation’ (DNAR) orders had been placed in your medical file…
It turns out that whilst in hospital you suffered a heart attack and respiratory failure, which required instant medical attention to revive you… But of course, this did not happen, because unbeknown to you and your family DNAR orders were placed in your file and consequently doctors left you to die…
Surely, this case is an isolated incident? Well, sadly it’s not, because a staggering 80 per cent of those who die in hospital are the subject of DNAR orders… A shocking figure considering that as many as seven out of ten of us will end our days in hospital.
In fact, coroners’ courts throughout England have held inquests because distraught relatives have discovered that doctors had decided to do nothing in the case of a collapse.
Roger Goss, the co-director of Patient Concern, in the UK, says that DNAR orders are being misused by doctors and that these orders are written in patients’ medical files without them or their relatives knowing. He added that it is not far-fetched to foresee that DNAR orders will increase to the point where everyone over a certain age — perhaps 65 or 70 — gets one stuck in their medical files… especially since the National Health Service (NHS) is subject to stringent budget cuts over the next few years.
It gets worse
You could argue that once doctors need to TRY to resuscitate you, you are already dead… and that even if their attempts succeed you may still pass away within a few hours, days or weeks (depending on the severity of your condition), since statistics show that only 15 per cent of those brought back to life are ever discharged from hospital. Or you may end up with brain damage due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. But you may also survive… Inevitably, the young and fit are more likely to survive than the frail and elderly.
However, no matter what the odds are, the choice between life or death is one that should, at all times, be left with the patient, not the doctor who has an ethical duty to respect the rights and dignity of his patients.
Clearly, doctors and hospitals are absolutely disregarding patients’ rights to autonomy when it comes to DNAR orders. A case in point is David Tracey, who launched a legal action against Addenbroke’s Hospital and the UK’s Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, after his wife died in hospital earlier this year.
He claims that doctors put DNAR orders twice in his wife’s medical notes against her explicit wishes. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was later involved in a car crash and admitted to hospital. Since publicising the case, Mr Tracey’s lawyers have been overwhelmed by the number of letters they have received from those claiming doctors did not consult anyone before placing DNAR orders on the files of patients who then died.
It also transpired that desperately ill patients, still groggy from powerful anaesthetics following surgery, are asked (more likely forced if you ask me) by hospital staff to sign DNAR orders. One woman said that an elderly female patient was encouraged to scrawl a trembling ‘X’ on a consent form while still reeling from an anaesthetic.
In recent weeks, many have come forward claiming that patients and their relatives have been left powerless by doctors who failed to discuss the issue but still stamped files ‘do not resuscitate’. Some have been told that DNAR orders have landed in the medical files of deceased patients by mistake!
A mistake!? That is simply inexcusable… what’s even worse is that some doctors force incoherent patients to sign DNAR orders, or simply ignore and disrespect the express wishes of people that don’t want DNAR orders on their files…
Frankly, I don’t care what the politics behind this atrocity is. We all have the right to live and that decision lies with each and every one of us individually… Not with a doctor who’s trying to free-up hospital beds or attempting to save costs!
I sincerely apologise to all the good doctors out there who still act ethically and who practice their profession because they want to save lives and heal people, but unfortunately there is a whole bunch of your colleagues out there who are giving the medical profession a despicable name.
If you or a loved one is being treated in hospital, make sure that you see your medical files on a daily basis. Insist on discussing DNAR notes with your doctor and see to it that you have close relatives with you to witness the conversation and make a note of the date and time of the discussion. You have a right to proper treatment and a right to live… no matter what the doctors say!
‘Do not resuscitate: They’re the fateful words meaning doctors won’t try to save you if you collapse in hospital. But could they go on YOUR file without you being asked?’ published online 06.09.2011, dailymail.co.uk
‘NHS training on ‘do not resuscitate’ orders must not be cut, says doctor’ published online 31.08.11, guardian.co.uk