Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, August 9, 2018

You May Have Signed a Living Will, but Scary Mistakes can Happen at the ER

DNRMisunderstandings involving documents meant to guide end-of-life decision-making are “surprisingly common,” said Williams-Murphy, medical director of advance-care planning and end-of-life education for Huntsville Hospital Health System in Alabama. A new report out of Pennsylvania, treats mix-ups involving end-of-life documents as medical errors — a novel approach. Pennsylvania health-care facilities reported nearly 100 events relating to patients’ “code status” — their wish to be resuscitated or not, should their hearts stop beating and they stop breathing. In 29 cases, patients were resuscitated against their wishes. In two cases, patients weren’t resuscitated despite making it clear they wanted this to happen.

The problem, Regina Hoffman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority and co-author of the report, explained that doctors and nurses receive little if any training in understanding and interpreting living wills, DNR orders and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) forms.

Make sure you have ongoing discussions about your end-of-life preferences with your physician, your surrogate decision-maker, if you have one, and your family, especially when your health status changes. Without these conversations, documents can be difficult to interpret.

See Judith Graham, You May Have Signed a Living Will, but Scary Mistakes can Happen at the ER, Washington Post, August 5, 2018.

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.



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