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Do not resuscitate (DNR), or no code, is a legal order written either in the hospital or on a legal form to withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), in respect of the wishes of a patient in case their heart were to stop or they were to stop breathing. "No code" is a reference to the use of "code" as jargon for "calling in a Code Blue" to alert a hospital's resuscitation team. The DNR request is usually made by the patient or health care power of attorney and allows the medical teams taking care of them to respect their wishes. In the health care community, allow natural death (AND), is a term that is quickly gaining favor as it focuses on what is being done, not what is being avoided. Some criticize the term "do not resuscitate" because it sounds as if something important is being withheld, while research shows that only about 5% of patients who require CPR outside the hospital and only 15% of patients who require CPR while in the hospital survive. Patients who are elderly, are living in nursing homes, have multiple medical problems, or who have advanced cancer are much less likely to survive.
A DNR does not affect any treatment other than that which would require intubation or CPR. Patients who are DNR can continue to get chemotherapy, antibiotics, dialysis, or any other appropriate treatments.
Alternative namings and abbreviations for this order are used depending on the geographic region. DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) is a common abbreviation in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. It may be clarified in some regions with the addition of DNI (Do Not Intubate), although in some hospitals DNR alone will imply no intubation. Clinically, the vast majority of people requiring resuscitation will require intubation, making a DNI alone problematic.
Some areas of the United States and the United Kingdom include the letter A, as in DNAR, to clarify "Do Not Attempt Resuscitation." This alteration is so that it is not presumed by the patient/family that an attempt at resuscitation will be successful. Since the term DNR implies the omission of action, and therefore "giving up", some have advocated for these orders to be retermed Allow Natural Death. New Zealand and Australia (and some hospitals in the UK) use the term NFR or Not For Resuscitation. Typically, these abbreviations are written without periods between the letters, i.e. AND/DNR not A.N.D./D.N.R..
Another synonymous term is "not to be resuscitated" (NTBR).
Until recently in the UK it was common to write "Not for 222" or conversationally, "Not for twos." This was implicitly a hospital DNR order, where 222 (or similar) is the hospital telephone number for the emergency resuscitation or crash team.
Advance directives and living wills are documents written by individuals themselves, so as to state their wishes for care, if they are no longer able to speak for themselves. In contrast, it is a physician or hospital staff member who writes a DNR "physician's order," based upon the wishes previously expressed by the individual in his or her advance directive or living will. Similarly, at a time when the individual is unable to express his wishes, but has previously used an advance directive to appoint an agent, then a physician can write such a DNR "physician's order" at the request of that individual's agent. These various situations are clearly enumerated in the "sample" DNR order presented on this page.
It should be stressed that, in the United States, an advance directive or living will is not sufficient to ensure a patient is treated under the DNR protocol, even if it is his wish, as neither an advance directive nor a living will is a legally binding document.
DNR documents are widespread in some countries and unavailable in others. In countries where a DNR is unavailable the decision to end resuscitation is made solely by physicians.
DNRs are not recognized by Jordan. Physicians attempt to resuscitate all patients regardless of individual or familial wishes. In Israel, it is possible to sign a DNR form as long as the patient is dying and aware of their actions.
In England and Wales, CPR is presumed in the event of a cardiac arrest unless a do not resuscitate order is in place. If they have capacity as defined under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 the patient may decline resuscitation, however any discussion is not in reference to consent to resuscitation and instead should be an explanation. Patients may also specify their wishes and/or devolve their decision-making to a proxy using an advance directive, which are commonly referred to as 'Living Wills'. Patients and relatives cannot demand treatment (including CPR) which the doctor believes is futile and in this situation, it is their doctor's duty to act in their 'best interest', whether that means continuing or discontinuing treatment, using their clinical judgment. If they lack capacity relatives will often be asked for their opinion out of respect.
In Scotland, the terminology used is "Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation" or "DNACPR". There is a single policy used across all of NHS Scotland. The legal standing is similar to that in England and Wales, in that CPR is viewed as a treatment and, although there is a general presumption that CPR will be performed in the case of cardiac arrest, this is not the case if it is viewed by the treating clinician to be futile. Patients and families cannot demand CPR to be performed if it is felt to be futile (as with any medical treatment) and a DNACPR can be issued despite disagreement, although it is good practice to involve all parties in the discussion.
In the United States the documentation is especially complicated in that each state accepts different forms, and advance directives and living wills are not accepted by EMS as legally valid forms. If a patient has a living will that states the patient wishes to be DNR but does not have an appropriately filled out state sponsored form that is co-signed by a physician, EMS will attempt resuscitation.
The DNR decision by patients was first litigated in 1976 in In re Quinlan. The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the right of Karen Ann Quinlan's parents to order her removal from artificial ventilation. In 1991 Congress passed into law the Patient Self-Determination Act that mandated hospitals honor an individual's decision in their healthcare. Forty-nine states currently permit the next of kin to make medical decisions of incapacitated relatives, the exception being Missouri. Missouri has a Living Will Statute that requires two witnesses to any signed advanced directive that results in a DNR/DNI code status in the hospital.
In the U.S., cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) will not be performed if a valid written "DNR" order is present. Many US states do not recognize living wills or health care proxies in the prehospital setting and prehospital personnel in those areas may be required to initiate resuscitation measures unless a specific state sponsored form is appropriately filled out and cosigned by a physician.
Do not resuscitate orders are similar to those used in the United States. In 1995, the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Hospital Association, Canadian Nursing Association, and Catholic Health Association of Canada worked with Canadian Bar Association clarify and create a Joint Statement on Resuscitative Interventions guideline for use to determine when and how DNR orders are assigned. DNR orders must be discussed by doctors with the patient or patient agents or patient's significant others. Unilateral DNR by medical professionals can only be used if the patient is in a vegetative state.
In hospitals in Jordan and Palestine, neither families nor social workers are allowed in the operating room to observe resuscitation, says Mohamad Yousef, a sixth-year medical student from Jordan. There are also no DNRs. “If it was within the law, I would always work to save a patient, even if they didn't want me to,” he says.
The right to refuse or terminate medical treatment began evolving in 1976 with the case of Karen Ann Quinlan v New Jersey (70NJ10, 355 A2d, 647 [NJ 1976]). This spawned subsequent cases leading to the use of the DNR order.(4) In 1991, the Patient Self-Determination Act mandated hospitals ensure that a patient's right to make personal health care decisions is upheld. According to the act, a patient has the right to refuse treatment, as well as the right to refuse resuscitative measures.(5) This right usually is accomplished by the use of the DNR order.
# What if the EMT cannot find the DNR form or evidence of a MedicAlert medallion? Will they withhold resuscitative measures if my family asks them to? No. EMS personnel are taught to proceed with CPR when needed, unless they are absolutely certain that a qualified DNR advance directive exists for that patient. If, after spending a reasonable (very short) amount of time looking for the form or medallion, they do not see it, they will proceed with lifesaving measures.
May EMS providers accept living wills or health care proxies? A living will or health care proxy is NOT valid in the prehospital setting