The practicalities of terminally ill patients signing their own DNR orders--a study in Taiwan

Journal of Medical Ethics 34 (5):336-340 (2008)
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Objectives: To investigate the current situation of completing the informed consent for do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders among the competent patients with terminal illness and the ethical dilemmas related to it. Participants: This study enrolled 152 competent patients with terminal cancer, who were involved in the initial consultations for hospice care. Analysis: Comparisons of means, analyses of variance, Student’s t test, χ2 test and multiple logistic regression models. Results: After the consultations, 117 (77.0%) of the 152 patients provided informed consent for hospice care and DNR orders. These included 21 patients (17.9%) who signed the consent by themselves, and 96 (82.1%) whose consent sheet was signed only by family members. The reasons why patients were not involved in the discussions toward the consent (n = 82) included poor physical or psychological condition (44.9%), concerns of the consultant hospice team (37.2%), and the family’s refusal (28.2%). On a multivariate analysis, patients’ awareness of their poor prognosis (odds ratio = 4.07, 95% confidence interval = 2.05 to 8.07) and their understanding of hospice care (2.27, 1.33 to 3.89) were two independent factors (p<0.01) that influenced their participation in the discussions or their personal signature in the informed consent. Conclusion: The family-oriented culture in Asian countries may violate the principles of the Patient Self-Determination Act and the requirements of the Hospice Care Law in Taiwan, which inevitably poses an ethical dilemma. Earlier truth-telling and continuing education of the public by hospice care workers will be helpful in solving such ethical dilemmas



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