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Horizon Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog

Monday, July 22, 2019

Understanding the DNR Order

A Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order is a health care form that gives an individual control over some of the medical procedures emergency medical services (EMS) providers may perform. Some people may believe that a DNR order covers all end-of-life medical decisions, but this is incorrect. Consulting a California elder law attorney about health care documents you need in addition to a DNR order can help ensure that health care providers respect your decisions regarding medical care.

What Is a DNR Order?

A prehospital DNR order instructs EMS personnel that they are not to perform measures to resuscitate you if you are in cardiopulmonary arrest. Measures that the DNR order withholds include CPR (chest compressions), cardiotonic drugs) assisted ventilation, defibrillation, and endotracheal intubation. In other words, if you stop breathing or your heart stops, your DNR order instructs EMS personnel to forego efforts to revive you. However, a DNR order does not prevent medical personnel from administering other life-sustaining measures or other emergency medical care.

For a DNR to be valid in California, the DNR must be in writing, signed by you. Your legally designated health care decision maker may sign the DNR form if you are unable to communicate your wishes regarding medical treatments and health care. Your physician must also sign the DNR order affirming that you or your health care agent has given informed consent for the DNR instruction. A copy of the DNR order should be near the patient at all times. Some individuals opt to purchase a DNR medallion to wear that notifies EMS of the existence of a DNR order. Only three medallion provides are currently approved by the State of California.

What If a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Form?

You may also want to consider a POLST to make your wishes known regarding end-of-life medical treatments. With a POLST, you can dictate if you want to refuse treatments and extraordinary measures, such as feeding tubes and ventilators if you are terminally or seriously ill. It gives you more control over how you spend the final days of your life. Your physician must sign a POLST form for the form to be valid.

DNRs and POLSTs Do Not Replace Advance Care Planning 

DNRs and POLSTs are effective tools for ensuring your end-of-life choices related to medical care are honored. However, these forms are not intended to replace advance care planning documents used in estate planning. In addition to completing a DNR and a POLST with your physician, you may also want to consider meeting with an attorney to discuss other estate planning and advance planning documents that ensure your wishes are honored regarding your care even when you cannot speak for yourself.

Documents you may want to discuss with an attorney include:

  • Healthcare Power of Attorney
  • Durable General Power of Attorney
  • Living Will
  • Advance Healthcare Directive

Before you execute your advance care planning documents, it is a wise idea to discuss your wishes with the agent you want to appoint to act on your behalf if you are unable to do so. Your agent needs to understand your wishes and be willing to follow your wishes. If your agent disagrees with your decisions or appears hesitant to follow your wishes, you may want to consider choosing another agent.

Contact a California Elder Law Attorney for More Information

If you have questions about DNR orders or other advance care planning documents, a California elder law attorney is a great source of information about your legal rights and the laws governing advance care planning documents. Schedule a consult with our California elder law attorney today.

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