What Should I Know about a Do-Not-Resuscitate Order or DNR?

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If you are admitted to a hospital for even minor procedures, there is a good chance you will be asked to read and consider signing a do-not-resuscitate order.

A do-not-resuscitate order, or DNR, is a written document informing healthcare personnel not to perform resuscitation (CPR). However, The Petoskey News-Review’s recent article entitled “Do-not-resuscitate orders apply to use of CPR in critical situations” explains that many patients don’t completely understand what a DNR order is and its application to their medical care. The DNR is a legally binding order signed by a physician at a patient’s request that lets medical professionals know you don’t want to be resuscitated.

CPR is performed in only one situation — if a patient is unresponsive, doesn’t have a pulse, and isn’t breathing. If that happens, medical personnel have two courses of action: (i) allow for a natural death, or (ii) try CPR. If you’re unresponsive, have no pulse, and aren’t breathing, that is the only situation in which any medical provider should attempt CPR—having a DNR does not mean no treatment. The fact that you have a DNR order means you should receive the same treatment that another patient who doesn’t have a DNR gets, with all the same medications and procedures.

As such, patients should know the limitations that come with CPR.

If CPR is successful, it means just one thing – that someone has regained a pulse. That doesn’t have any implications about a patient’s cognitive or mental status after CPR is administered.

Research shows that the likelihood of CPR being successful (in regaining a pulse) is in the range of 15-20% of patients. Thus, out of 100 patients who experience cardiac arrest and have CPR, about 80 to 85 will still die.

Note that there’s a difference between a hospital DNR and an out-of-hospital DNR. An out-of-hospital DNR is for those who don’t want resuscitation if they have problems at home or outside a medical facility. Those forms follow the patient, whether they are at home or not.

It would be best if you discussed these sensitive matters and signed a DNR when no one’s under pressure from a medical emergency.

The central part of advance care planning is appointing someone you trust to speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself. With an advance care directive, you can state your preference or opposition to a DNR order.

In addition, everyone should have a healthcare power of attorney, an advance directive, or a patient advocate designation. This is where you select someone to make medical decisions when you cannot do so for yourself.

Reference: The Petoskey News-Review (Sep. 23, 2021) “Do-not-resuscitate orders apply to use of CPR in critical situations.”