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Can a Doctor Override your Advance Directive?

Posted on: March 16th, 2021 by Chad Hill

Let’s say that you create an advance directive which includes a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) order. Then, when you are in surgery and your heart stops beating, the doctor does not honor the DNR order. Instead, he resuscitates you. Does that happen? Yes, it does, even though it shouldn’t.

Health Care Facilities That Do Not Honor DNRs

Some health care facilities will have you sign a paper that says they disregard DNR orders. While this isn’t ethical, it does happen. In a business sense, a health care facility is often better off if they keep patients alive. In a medical sense, things can go wrong with you that are not expected but can easily be fixed. For example, you could be having a heart surgery, but your heart stops beating because of a reaction to the anesthesia. This happens to be something the doctor can resuscitate you from without many adverse effects. Following the DNR in this case may not be in your best interest.

Administrative Error

Although many more people are now planning for their end of life, their preferences are not always available at the right moment. Because people often have multiple doctors, the advance directive should technically be given to and discussed with each of them. However, this doesn’t always happen. Even if it did, a busy medical administrator can easily make a mistake and check off the box that says you don’t have a DNR.

While we can’t prevent all instances of human error, My Living Wishes does try to ensure that everyone on your healthcare team knows about your advance directive and has one on file.

Inadequate Explanations from the Doctor

When an advanced directive is overridden by a doctor, it is usually not a black-and-white case of neglect. Instead, it is often a case of the doctor not clearly explaining risks and alternatives. It may be a deliberate misrepresentation, or it may be careless misrepresentation. Legally, this should lead to malpractice charges against the doctor, but often the court focuses more on what was told to the patient and not how clearly it was told.

You can’t erase the possibility that your advance directive might be ignored. However, you can make it less likely to happen. My Living Wishes does everything it can to put your advance directive in the right hands. Please contact us if you have any questions about your end-of-life planning.