The Do Not Resuscitate Order

By Senior Advocate Rick Law, Lead Attorney at the Estate Planning Center of Law Elder Law in Western Chicagoland. 

A Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) is an example of an “Advance Directive”.

The Supreme Court held in Cruzan v. Director of Missouri Department of Health, that individuals have a constitutional right to refuse any medical treatment, including ventilators and feeding tubes. A DNR instructs health-care professionals not to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation if a person’s heart stops or the person stops breathing. DNRs are signed by a doctor and put in the individual’s medical chart.

It is important to point out that the DNR is the only advance directive that is also a doctor’s order or a physician’s order for medical care.

Many people have come to believe that signing a DNR in some manner is a substitute for having a valid health-care power of attorney or a living will. However, due to the narrowness of the scope of authority of a DNR, it is not a substitute.  It has nothing to do with any other circumstance as far as dealing with life-prolonging treatment. If a client is in a coma or a vegetative state and wants to die with dignity, a DNR will be powerless to help.

It is a very specific declaration of “don’t give me treatment if we’re dealing with a medical condition called full cardiopulmonary arrest or medical condition called a pre-arrested emergency.” It provides no guidance otherwise.

The DNR may be invalidated if the immediate cause of a respiratory or cardiac arrest is related to trauma or mechanical airway obstruction. That means if someone has a DNR and is experiencing a respiratory or cardiac arrest, but it turns out that the person choked on a hotdog, when the EMT shows up and realizes that the person is choking and can’t breathe, the EMT will remove that obstruction from the airway. The spouse can wave that DNR in front of the EMT and the EMT will pay no attention because the person is choking—from a traumatic cause, not a chronic condition.

If it’s time to get your ducks in a row, call our office at 800-310-3100.  Your first consultation is absolutely free.  We’ll let you know what steps you need to take, right now, to protect yourself and your family.


Rick L. Law, Attorney, Estate Planner for Retirees.

Rick was named the #1 Illinois elder law estate planning attorney by Leading Lawyer Magazine. He has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, AARP Magazine,, and numerous newspapers and articles. Rick is the lead attorney for Law Elder Law, LLP, focusing in Estate Planning, Guardianship, and Nursing Home Solutions. His goal is to give retirees an informed edge when it comes to dealing with an uncertain future.  Get flexible retirement strategies that work during good times and bad, plus information on how you can save your home and assets from being used to pay for long term care.  Call 800-310-3100 for your free consultation now!

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