Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR)

A Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) is an order from a physician that directs the medical staff to allow the patient to expire without performing heroic measures. A DNR can be a verbal order, a written order in the patient’s chart, or a separate form that is approved by the state in which the patient is receiving treatment.

For seniors who don’t live in a nursing home, many states require that a special DNR be completed on a state approved form and signed by the physician; if that specific form is not present, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) are required to perform resuscitation procedures and transport the patient to the emergency room. The main objective of the form is to provide direction to EMTs so that they will have a doctor’s order for treatments to be withheld.

Without a Do Not Resuscitate order available to show to the EMTs when they arrive, they’re obligated to do everything possible to revive the patient and transport them to the nearest hospital. Even if a family member hands a copy of a Living Will or Power of Attorney form, the EMTs must continue unless a doctor directs them to stop attempting to revive the patient.

For those patients who are receiving hospice care at home and the state-approved form hasn’t been received back from the physician, absence of the form shouldn’t be a problem. Under most circumstances, the patient and/or family member telephones the hospice when there is a problem and the EMTs are never called. If they call 911, unless the state-approved form is present in the home it’s possible that the patient will be resuscitated and taken to the hospital for further treatment. Even if the family doesn’t call 911, a well-meaning neighbor might call for help. This is why it’s important to have a DNR available in the home.

Patients who are receiving in-home care from other types of agencies might also benefit from having a DNR displayed prominently – a good place to keep it is on the front of the refrigerator.

For information about the DNR laws in your state, contact your local Area Agency on Aging or speak with a social worker in your local hospital.