In cancer care, do not resuscitate (DNR) orders are common in the terminal phase of the illness, which implies that the responsible physician in advance decides that in case of a cardiac arrest neither basic nor advanced Coronary Pulmonary Rescue should be performed. Swedish regulations prescribe that DNR decisions should be made by the responsible physician, preferably in co-operation with members of the team. If possible, the patient should consent, and significant others should be informed of the decision. Previous studies have shown that physicians and nurses can experience ethical dilemmas in relation to DNR decisions, but knowledge about what ethical reasoning they perform is lacking. Therefore, the aim was to describe and explore what ethical reasoning physicians and nurses apply in relation to DNR-decisions in oncology and hematology care.
A qualitative, descriptive and explorative design was used, based on 287 free-text comments in a study-specific questionnaire, answered by 216 physicians and nurses working in 16 oncology and hematology wards in Sweden. Comments were given by 89 participants.
The participants applied a situation-based ethical reasoning in relation to DNR-decisions. The reasons given for this were both deontological and utilitarian in kind. Also, expressions of care ethics were found in the material. Universal rules or guidelines were seen as problematic. Concerning the importance of the subject, nurses to a higher extent underlined the importance of discussing DNR-situations, while physicians described DNR-decisions as over-investigated and not such a big issue in their daily work.
The study revealed that DNR-decisions in oncology and hematology care gave rise to ethical considerations. Important ethical values described by the participants were to avoid doing harm and to secure a peaceful and “natural” death with dignity for their dying patients. A preference for the expression “allow for natural death” instead of the traditional term “do not resuscitate” was found in the material.