Most of us have heard the story about the unconscious patient brought to an emergency room in Florida with “Do Not Resuscitate” tattooed across his chest. The seventy-year-old man had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, in addition to other ailments.

Getting a tattoo to express one’s wishes to not receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may hold some attraction.  After all, the patient’s wishes would seem to be clear and there is no need for your loved ones to rush to the hospital with your DNR request or health care proxy.  But, in fact, it has the opposite effect.  Emergency medical responders would be faced with a dilemma.  If just the letters “D.N.R.” are tattooed, the responders may not immediately see the tattoo or they may not be confident in what the letters represent as it could be the patient’s initials or the initials of a loved one.  It could be that the tattoo was the result of a drunken night gone wrong, such as the case with a patient who was in the hospital for complications related to diabetes.  When asked about the DNR tattoo, he indicated that he had lost a poker bet while inebriated but he wanted CPR if it would prolong his life.  More importantly, if the tattoo is determined to not be legally recognized and the first responder had not resuscitated a patient who could otherwise be saved, he or she may face legal consequences.    Finally, a tattoo is permanent and does not allow the patient to have a change of heart as to their instructions unless they undergo expensive tattoo removal.

In the case of the Florida patient, the man did not have any identification with him so the hospital delayed implementation of the DNR order.  The hospital only began to honor the patient’s wishes when the hospital’s ethics staff determined that it would be reasonable to assume the tattoo represented the patient’s wishes.  The patient was finally identified and a legally binding DNR order was found which had been signed by the patient.  We recommend that our clients prepare legally binding documents, such as a health care power of attorney or living wills, rather than the use of tattoos to express end-of-life wishes.

Does your family know what your wishes are with respect to your healthcare in the event you are unable to communicate with your medical care professionals?  There is no need to get a tattoo!

We offer various forms of estate planning depending on each client’s goals and needs, including health care powers of attorney and living wills. Contact us if you want to avoid the situation this man in Florida found himself in, and if you are in a difficult situation, we handle probate litigation as well.