According to the study, authored by a team of medical professionals from the University of Miami, the doctors attending to the man didn't want to honor the tattoo because there was no way to be absolutely sure that's what the man wanted.
"We initially decided not to honor the tattoo, invoking the principle of not choosing an irreversible path when faced with uncertainty," the study said. The doctors chose to treat the patient with antibiotics and other life-saving measures.
However, they called in the hospital's ethics consultant, who had a different opinion.
Differing view from an ethics consultant
Tattoos, while clearly administered with a patient's wishes, aren't legally binding, and are usually considered too ambiguous to act upon.
"The emergency responder may wonder: (D)o the letters stand for Do Not Resuscitate? Or Department of Natural Resources? Or someone's initials? Second, the tattoo may not result from a considered decision to forego resuscitation. Errors in interpretation may have life and death consequences," the Journal of General Internal Medicine article said.
In the case of the man in the Florida hospital, the facility's ethics consultant said the doctors should honor the tattoo.
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"They suggested that it was most reasonable to infer that the tattoo expressed an authentic preference, that what might be seen as caution could also be seen as standing on ceremony, and that the law is sometimes not nimble enough to support patient-centered care and respect for patients' best interests," the study reads.
There was also another development that supported the consultant's decision: The hospital's social work department located a copy of the man's Florida Department of Health "out-of-hospital" do not resuscitate order, which supported the request on his tattoo.