Health secretary says Do Not Resuscitate tags are legal
For EUR 37.50, members of the Dutch Right to Die society can buy a tag to wear round their neck saying they do not want to be resuscitated if their heart stops beating.
The legal status of the tags has now been recognised and if a wearer is involved in an accident, they can at least expect medical volunteers at the scene to let nature take its course. But ambulance workers think the tag should not be legally valid as it presents them with added life-and-death dilemmas.
The tags produced by the Right to Die society tags carry a photograph and the name of the wearer, and state the wearer's wish not to be reanimated in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest. The Dutch Reanimation Council gave legitimacy to the tags at the beginning of this month. In the past the council ruled that medical staff should simply resuscitate patients and not start looking for a declaration they might have on them saying they do not want to be treated. However, its new guidelines say that if the tag is obviously visible, trained medical volunteers should not start reanimating a patient.
Deputy Health Secretary Jet Bussemaker now also says the Do Not Resuscitate tags are legitimate, and have the same legal validity as a written declaration. As yet, guidelines for ambulance workers still say they should ignore the tags, but the Right to Die society says it expects this to change. However, an association of ambulance workers says it is extremely concerned at the developments. It insists that the tags should not be seen as having the same legal status as the written declaration required by law. And anyway the organisation finds the existence of such declarations highly problematic.
Faced with decision
For one thing, although family and friends are usually aware of the wishes of a person who has made such a written declaration, in practice they may still call an ambulance in an emergency. If a declaration then comes to light, the ambulance staff may be faced with the decision not to go ahead with reanimation even though they have just been directly asked to do so by the family.
Photo left: Deputy Health Secretary Jet Bussemaker Photo Wikipedia-Commons
They are particularly concerned that if they have already started a reanimation and then find out this was officially against the patient's wishes, they are expected to stop. But if the patient has already started responding to the treatment, this means
the medical worker is essentially faced with the decision to end their life.
The Right to Die Society is pleased with the new recognition of its tag. After all, if a person who has expressly stated they do not wish to be reanimated finds that this has been done against their will anyway, they might reasonably be expected to feel their rights have been ignored. But from the perspective of emergency workers, the tag's revised status only adds to the potential dilemmas they face.