You may have heard about this story: doctors were faced with an ethical dilemma when they found the words “Do Not Resuscitate” tattooed on a man’s chest. The tattoo even included the man’s signature. The patient had no other documentation and was not accompanied by any family members who could help the doctors understand what the man’s wishes might be. The doctors were faced with the question of whether they should honor the tattoo as an accurate representation of the man’s wishes.

The doctors initially decided not to honor the tattoo because if they did, the path was irreversible. The doctors consulted an ethics panel who advised that the tattoo should be honored as a representation of the patient’s wishes, and he passed away the next morning. Luckily, a written DNR was later located, so in this case, the tattoo was a reflection of the man’s actual end-of-life wishes.

Contrast this scenario with an earlier case where a man’s DNR tattoo contradicted his wishes. The patient, in this case, was fully conscious and admitted to the hospital for an amputation. His DNR tattoo conflicted with his written directives for some life-sustaining treatment. The hospital staff asked him to clarify his wishes, and it turns out that he got the tattoo because he had lost a bet while he was intoxicated!

A tattoo might signal that a written order is in place somewhere to EMS or other medical professionals, but it will likely just create more confusion than it resolves. So, if you’re looking for the best way to express your end-of-life wishes, a tattoo is probably not the way to go. If you have any questions about creating a DNR, Advance Healthcare Directive, or other future planning concerns, call our San Luis Obispo estate planning lawyers at (805) 946-1550 to schedule a consultation.

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