Patient Referral

Do Not Resuscitate Tattoo: Is There a Better Way?

DNR Tattoo

As a seasoned nurse, I have had the opportunity to witness profound changes in society and within healthcare itself. Some are very positive, some not so positive. 

In this world of robust information, patients are becoming more informed and educated. Adapting and finding new ways of taking control of one’s health has dramatically impacted how to manage healthcare and ensure our self-determination is honored.  However, as with most things, there is the potential for unforeseen fallout.

I read an article a few months ago about a man who tried to ensure his healthcare directives were known, loud and clear.  To do this, he got a tattoo on his chest that stated “Do Not Resuscitate” with the word “not” underlined and his signature carefully inked underneath.

Unfortunately, his good intentions caused more issues than it solved.  The man ended up in an emergency room requiring heroic measures, and the staff were at odds about how to handle the situation.

After reading the article, I Initially thought “how could this be an issue? The man was making his desires known with his DNR tattoo and clearly did not want to be resuscitated.”  But after pondering the idea, I began to think about potential pitfalls and unintended consequences.   

I began to wonder “what if?”  What if he had changed his mind after getting this ever-so-permanent tattoo? How could he now “rescind” a signed DNR, in dark black ink, on his chest?  

How to Make Your Healthcare Wishes Clear 

Being creative and proactive to ensure your self-determined life closure is honored is intriguing. However, in my opinion, a tried and true means should come first. As healthcare providers, we know what to do in these situations.

My advice to ensure your healthcare directives are honored is simple.  

First, inform your family of exactly what you want to occur in the event you are faced with a medical crisis.  Having these discussions with your family isn’t “morbid” or a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” They are critically needed conversations.

Additionally, completing a Living Will, Advance Directive and/or POLST and share this document with your family, your primary care provider, and a local hospital. It is a crucial step.  

Another highly recommended method is to designate someone as your healthcare proxy/ durable power of attorney. This will increase the odds that the person you trust to carry out your healthcare decisions will be legally able to make your wishes known.

Let’s save the tattoos for body art.  You never know when you might change your mind about a decision you’ve made.

For more information on end-of-life care, self-determined life closure and advance directives, contact Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care at 1-888-564-3405.


DeAnna Looper RN, CHPN, CHPCA, LNC
Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations
Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care


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Copyright © 2018 Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care. All rights reserved.


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