Do Not Resuscitate tattoo

There’s been others who have done it (I blogged about it before, but now the Yahoo News link is dead), but, via BoingBoing:

  This is a photo of a tattoo that Mary Wohlford, 80, has emblazoned on her chest. Wohlford, of Decorah, Iowa, got the ink in February to hopefully eliminate the possibility of any Terri Schiavo-esque controversy about her medical wishes should she become unable to communicate them directly. From the Des Moines Register (photo by Mary Chind):  

If all else fails, if family members can’t find her living will or can’t face the responsibility of ending life-sustaining measures, she said, then doctors will know her wishes by simply reading the tiny words that are tattooed over her sternum. 

So, would this stop ME from doing CPR? Yes, I think it would, though there’s some blatheration about "a copy of an advanced directive in the chart":

Would Wohlford’s tattoo stop an Iowa doctor from resuscitating her?

"According to Iowa law, the answer is no," said Dr. Mark Purtle, who works in internal medicine at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. He said Iowa law spells out when caregivers are permitted not to resuscitate a patient, and a tattoo wouldn’t be good enough. He suggests a living will or an advanced directive, with a copy placed in the patient’s medical chart, as well as discussing your wishes with trusted family members.

Lawyers agreed with Purtle. "Just having that tattooed on your chest and doing nothing more, I’m not sure that’s going to do you much good," said William Bump of Stuart, who has expertise in living wills and estate matters.

I’m betting that, despite having expertise in living wills and estate matters, he’s never been staring at an 80ish year old patient in an ED with no medical records and wondering what that patients’ desires would be. It’s goofy to think that someone would go to the trouble of having the entire words "Do Not Resuscitate" tattooed on their sternum as a prank or a stunt; if it’s there I’d take it seriously. Really, I’d prefer a tattoo like that over the copy of a copy of a crinkled out of hospital DNR form that sometimes accompany the patients. Maybe I’m alone on that point, but there you are.

End of life decisions should be made early and discussed with everyone you reasonably suspect would be called to act as your surrogate. And, if you want to do this, hoping some caregivers prefer flesh to paper, then I don’t see why not (just be aware this would be a little less revocable than signing a piece of paper).

None of us get out of this alive; sometimes we can choose how we go.

Hat tip to Mike (who needs to get back to blogging) at FFM for the link.


  1. “People might think I’m crazy, but that’s OK,” Wohlford said. “Sometimes the nuttiest ideas are the most advanced.”

    Haha, crazy Iowans and their crazy ideas. Being one, and in light of the story dateline, I’m tempted to add the following below DNR if/when I’m 80:

    Ease his pain.


    Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

    Said Wohlford: “I don’t believe in lawyers too much.”

    I like this lady.

  2. TheNewGuy says:

    I think I’d take that as a valid DNR… how much more irrevocably could the patient state their wishes? I don’t see this as any different from a terminal cancer patient verbally telling you “Do NOT resuscitate me… let me go!”

    Sheesh… like any jury is going to call you a murderer when that tattoo is starting them right there in the face (and I’d think the nursing staff would notice/see/hear any inheritance-seeking family members sneaking into the nursing home with a tattoo gun)

    Sometimes common sense is better than a piece of paper on the chart.