Estate Attorney: When Should I Sign a Do Not Resuscitate Order or “DNR”?


Estate Attorney: When Should I Sign a Do Not Resuscitate Order or “DNR”?

As an estate attorney, I am often asked, “When should I sign my Do Not Resuscitate order?”. This is just one question that many elder law attorneys hear from their clients when going through the estate planning process. The short answer: when you’re at a hospital and not in the attorney’s office. A DNR is not actually one of the documents that make up a person’s estate plan; those documents are usually limited to the Healthcare Directive, Power of Attorney, Last Will and Testament, and Revocable Living Trust. The confusion occurs because the Healthcare Directive seems to handle similar healthcare matters to the DNR, which is true. The problem is that the matters are just that: similar, not the same.

A DNR order is used to let emergency medical workers, physicians, and other healthcare professionals know that they are not to use specific methods to try to resuscitate you. These methods include CPR, defibrillators, and breathing tubes, along with other techniques that may be deemed invasive. The DNR only comes into effect if your heart has stopped beating or if you have stopped breathing. By contrast, a Healthcare Directive is concerned with the types of care that you wish to receive during the period known as end-of-life or if you are otherwise unable to speak for yourself. It concerns things like artificial feeding tubes or other devices that are meant to keep you alive indefinitely.

Your wishes regarding resuscitation should be made known to your loved ones and put in writing so your agent (typically a spouse or adult child) can carry out those wishes if you ever become incapacitated. The Healthcare Directive and DNR together help ensure that you receive the care you desire and will not leave your loved ones and physicians guessing about your healthcare wishes.

It’s also important to note that a pre-hospital DNR only impacts any resuscitation efforts that are taken by emergency workers outside of a hospital or nursing home setting. If you have one of these, you should keep it where emergency workers can find it, like in your wallet or purse, on your refrigerator, or near your nightstand.

DNRs are usually signed in a hospital or nursing home when you are diagnosed with a terminal illness. It does not have to be drafted by an elder law attorney, but it is a good idea to consult with one to get all the information necessary when deciding if you need a DNR.

If you have any questions about a DNR, or if you would like to have your current estate plan reviewed with a local Pittsburgh estate attorney to make sure your documents are up to date, please contact us to set up a consultation.