Red = don't reanimate!

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An unusual experiment is due to start in February in the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in the Dutch town of Dordrecht. Patients who do not want to be reanimated will be given red wristbands.

Specialist Valentijn Drexhage explains the problem:

“The patient’s wishes are normally noted in the medical file, except sometimes when it has been forgotten. If the file isn’t in the room where the patient needs reanimating, it’s an acute situation. It’s a question of split seconds and you can’t waste time looking for a file. That’s the dilemma. We have sometimes started something that later we regretted, not to mention the patient, of course, and the family members.”

Patients have a variety of reasons to elect not to be reanimated. Old people are sometimes no longer so keen to continue living and some patients are fearful about the risks of reanimation. A spokesperson for the hospital points out that the impact of reanimation of the patient and close relatives is serious: “The majority of patients suffer lasting damage from being reanimated.”

One patient in the oncology department of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital is all in favour of the experiment. She is opposed to reanimation for religious reasons. The advantage of the wristband is that doctors can see right away what to do:

“It’s usually a hectic situation when something happens and when they have to decide whether or not to act. Life after reanimation is pretty grim. I have no desire to live like a vegetable.”

Playing safe
Patients aren’t always recognised at the critical moment and if there was the slightest doubt doctors have, understandably, always played safe and gone for reanimation. Patients are normally asked on admission whether they have any objection to reanimation. Drexhage:

“Sometimes the problem was with patients who came to us from the outpatient clinic and have passed from one department to another, but we now have departmental secretariats which will keep a closer eye on this in future.”

The experiment will continue until mid-May then a decision will be taken whether to continue. A spokesperson for the Dordrecht hospital is enthusiastic:

“We were worried there would be too much sensitivity about this kind of system, but it looks as though the opposite is true.”