A couple of years ago an Englishwoman made it into the headlines after she had the phrase “do not resuscitate” tattooed on her chest. She did this because she wanted to convey to her healthcare providers that should her heart stop and she stopped breathing, she did not want to have cardiopulmonary respiration performed on her.
DNR orders are very common and are often made a part of a person’s advance medical directives, and all states have laws that establish the requirements you have to meet to create a legally valid advance directive. While no state law directly addresses the possibility of creating a directive with a tattoo, if you are thinking of following the woman’s lead in doing something similar, you probably want to think again.
It’s unlikely that any first responder, physician, nurse, or any other health care provider would see the tattoo and decide not to perform CPR. A tattoo is not legally recognized as a valid advance directive. Additionally, healthcare providers may not see the tattoo, nor can they be sure that it represents your current wishes.
In short, if you wish to create a DNR or other advance directive, you should do so in accordance with state law. If you want to be sure your healthcare workers know about your wishes, you should explore other options, such as a medic alert bracelet, medical alert card, or similar method commonly used today.
In California, the basic document for making health care decisions is an Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD). In your AHCD, you can designate a health care agent to make health related decisions in the event you are incapacitated (e.g., coma, dementia), as well as making decisions relating to, among other things, end of life care and organ donation.
California has also recently passed legislation authorizing a type of DNR order known as a POLST. It stands for Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment. While it is not a substitute for an AHCD, it may be useful for making DNR type decisions for patient’s in extreme health conditions.