Legislating how critical care physicians discuss and implement do-not-resuscitate orders

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Abstract

A few weeks ago, Texas took an unprecedented position on unilateral DNRs by passing Senate Bill (SB) 11, which requires patient/surrogate consent for writing DNR orders. The motivation behind the bill was based on the drafters' beliefs that physicians frequently write unilateral DNR orders. SB 11, however, does not stop at requiring physicians to seek consent for DNR orders. Instead, the legislation uncharacteristically exceeds what is typically within the scope and role boundaries for lawmakers by legislating how physicians discuss and implement DNR orders.

We contend that this bill is ethically problematic and will have far-reaching, negative consequences that will affect how critical care medicine is practiced. In what follows, we describe how proponents' arguments rely on several ethical assumptions, and we describe potential negative impacts stemming from this legislation. Finally, we offer an alternative approach that would mitigate proponents' concerns. We believe SB 11 and our analytic deconstruction of it should serve as “lessons learned” for other states considering similar legislation.

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