BACKGROUND: Laws influence human behavior, including practitioners’ behavior, and legal nudges may affect bedside patient care practices. Do-not-resuscitate (DNR) practices are one such example. Ensuring that practitioners order DNR for patients who request it is a crucial part of providing quality end-of-life care. On April 1, 2018, in the state of Texas, Senate Bill 11 (SB 11) took effect. This law did not make DNR orders illegal, but it constrained and complicated the process for issuing them. This study aimed to determine if DNR order utilization decreased after the law’s implementation. METHODS: The authors conducted a retrospective cohort chart review of all adult patients admitted to a single academic urban tertiary care hospital in Texas before and after the state’s DNR law went into effect. The authors reviewed code status orders for the 5426 sickest patients. The primary outcome is the proportion of patients who had DNR orders in effect at the end of their hospitalizations. RESULTS: Implementation of the DNR law’s cumbersome documentation and witnessing requirements correlated with a substantial decline in DNR orders for patients at the highest risk of dying from chronic or severe illness. CONCLUSION: This is the first study the authors know of that examines whether DNR usage declined after implementation of a DNR law. A troubling implication of this study is that the Texas law has had a chilling effect on doctors’ willingness and ability to place medically and ethically appropriate DNR orders and has threatened the right of patients with serious illness to forgo cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
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