DNR Orders and Power of Attorney: Preventing Miscommunication in Medical Emergencies

Hospital dramas and police procedurals paint a vivid, but ultimately simplistic, image of emergency hospital care. The heroic doctor knows exactly what diagnosis to make and which actions to take to save the patient’s life at the last possible moment. The intrepid nurse helps the patient change their views on mortality and relationships, all because of their competing views on DNR orders. CPR nearly always saves the patient’s life. In “The New DNR/ POSLT: The Real Deal on End-of-Life-Wishes,” Shay Jacobson and Martha Kern suggest that the reality of DNR is much more complex and controversial. According to Jacobson and Kern, recent changes to DNR documents have greatly reduced the miscommunication caused by DNR, but some questions still remain.

Of most interest to our firm is the difference between DNR documents and Healthcare Power of Attorney. As Jacobson and Kern note, DNR is intended to shape how first responders react to unforeseen emergencies. It is not meant to dictate hospice care or other long-term illnesses. Power of Attorney, or POA, in contrast, doesn’t come into effect until after the initial response to the DNR forms have been carried out. POA documents are often accompanied by a Living Will, which acts as a guideline for the agent designated in the POA. Unfortunately, Living Wills are not legally enforceable, and mostly serve as suggestions for your agent.

There is no single catch-all document that can both foresee and enforce all of your end-of-life-wishes. However, with a little planning and strong communication between you, your loved ones, and your doctor, it’s possible to prevent any misunderstandings and make your desires known.