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Dignity in Dying comment on ‘Do Not Attempt Resuscitation’ case

The family of Mrs Janet Tracey is taking a legal case against Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the Department of Health, alleging an illegal use of “do not resuscitate” orders. The detail of what happened to Mrs Tracey is disputed by her family and the hospital.

Commenting on the issues raised by the case, Davina Hehir, Director of Legal Strategy and Policy said:

“Dignity in Dying’s view is that it is deeply concerning that treatment with the potential to sustain life can be withheld without the knowledge of a mentally competent patient. Under the current law, a patient does not have the right to demand that doctors give them treatment against their clinical judgment. However, we believe a competent person’s informed choice to receive potentially life-sustaining treatment should be respected wherever possible. If it cannot be respected, then doctors should have an honest, sensitive conversation with the patient, and give them information on the alternatives available to them (including asking for a second opinion from another doctor).

“Whilst exactly what happened in the days before Mrs Tracey’s death is in dispute, the case demonstrates the very real need for better communication between doctors, patients and their loved ones on difficult subjects such as resuscitation. Patients and their families need clear, accessible information on the potential risks and benefits of treatments such as cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, and clear information on their legal rights in relation to the request and refusal of life-sustaining treatment.”