Why do patients agree to a "do not resuscitate" or "full code" order? Perspectives of medical inpatients

James Downar, Tracy Luk, Robert W. Sibbald, Tatiana Santini, Joseph Mikhael, Hershl Berman, Laura Hawryluck

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Backgrond: The majority of patients who die in hospital have a "Do Not Resuscitate" (DNR) order in place at the time of their death, yet we know very little about why some patients request or agree to a DNR order, why others don't, and how they view discussions of resuscitation status. Methods: We conducted semi-structured interviews of English-speaking medical inpatients who had clearly requested a DNR or full code (FC) order after a discussion with their admitting team, and analyzed the transcripts using a modified grounded-theory approach. Results: We achieved conceptual saturation after conducting 44 interviews (27 DNR, 17 FC) over a 4-month period. Patients in the DNR group were much older than those in the FC group, but they had broadly similar admission diagnoses and comorbidities. DNR patients reported much greater familiarity with the subject and described a more positive experience than FC patients with their resuscitation discussions. Participants typically requested FC or DNR orders based on personal, relational or philosophical considerations, but these considerations manifested differently depending on the participant's preference for resuscitation. Most FC patients stated that would not want a prolonged period of life support, and they would not want resuscitation in the event of a poor quality of life. FC and DNR patients understood resuscitation and DNR orders differently. DNR patients described resuscitation in graphic, concrete terms that emphasized suffering and futility, and DNR orders in terms of comfort or natural processes. FC patients understood resuscitation in an abstract sense as something that restores life, while DNR orders were associated with substandard care or even euthanasia. Conclusion: Our study identified important differences and commonalities between the perspectives of DNR and FC patients. We hope that this information can be used to help physicians better understand the needs of their patients when discussing resuscitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)582-587
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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