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How can I make my end of life wishes clear?

One man’s tattoo recently left a team of Miami doctors with a confusing ethical dilemma.  A 70-year-old man was taken to a Miami hospital, where doctors discovered that he had a large chest tattoo that stated “Do Not Resuscitate.”  The tattoo seemed to convey the man’s end of life wishes, but doctors were puzzled over whether the message should be honored.  The New England Journal of Medicine recently explored this interesting case. Our New York estate planning lawyers discuss the facts and outcome of the case below and explain how you can legally convey your end of life wishes.

The Legal Ramifications of a DNR Tattoo

The patient that presented with the DNR tattoo in Miami had a history of pulmonary disease and resided in a nursing home. He was found unconscious in the streets, without identification and or any known family or friends.  Doctors were left with the difficult task of deciding whether the tattoo should be honored.

A specialist in the field of pulmonary disease initially elected not to comply with the tattoo because to do so would be irreversible. Seeking more time to make the life or death decision, and hoping the man would regain consciousness, the man was treated with antibiotics to address an infection and fluids.

Doctors then sought an ethical consultation, as they had never seen a DNR tattoo before.  The ethics consultants said they would honor the patient’s tattoo, as it seemed reasonable to infer that the tattoo expressed the man’s preference. Ultimately, doctors were able to find a proper DNR form previously signed by the patient. He passed away shortly thereafter.

Preserving Your Last Wishes

This interesting case study highlights the tremendous importance of conveying your last wishes in the correct legal manner.  Elderly adults that do not wish to be resuscitated will need to sign DNR orders that comply with state law.  You can also create a health care power of attorney.  This document will designate someone to make healthcare decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated.  Be sure your wishes as to end of life care are communicated to your health care agent in writing.  Taking these steps can help to ensure your last wishes are honored to the fullest extent.