Ask a Lawyer

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By Pierce Kelley

G.L. of Cross City asks, “Last year I had my lawyer revise my Will. She also prepared a Living Will and a Designation of Health Care Surrogate for me. However, I recently heard about a DO NOT RESUSCITATE form. Should I get one of those prepared, too?”
Dear G.L.,
The short answer is YES, you should, if you do not want the EMT’s, or Emergency Medical Technicians, or the doctors at the Emergency Room of your local hospital to try to save your life after you have suffered a life-threatening event of some kind, such as a respiratory or cardiac arrest. The documents which you have executed do not address the situation in which a Do Not Resuscitate Order would be in effect, and it is not effective unless and until a doctor signs it.
A Do Not Resuscitate Order is just that, an ORDER signed by a medical doctor who is licensed by the State of Florida to practice medicine in the State of Florida, which tells other health care providers not to save the person’s life. It has been developed by the Department of Health to identify people who do not wish to be resuscitated and it provides a legally approved mechanism to allow that person’s wishes to be carried out, provided the treating physician agrees.
A doctor won’t usually sign such an ORDER unless the person is suffering from a terminal condition, or an end-stage condition, or is in a persistent vegetative state.  The form is usually on either canary yellow or some similar yellow-colored paper. The form is often laminated and worn on a chain around the person’s neck, or placed at the foot of a bed, or on a refrigerator, or other conspicuous place.
Florida law provides that health care providers employed in settings such as hospices, adult family care homes, assisted living facilities, emergency room departments, nursing homes, home health agencies and hospitals may withhold or withdraw cardiopulmonary resuscitation if presented with a DNRO.
A Living Will indicates to health-care practitioners that you do not want to be kept alive under certain circumstances, such as when in a coma and you are being kept alive by feeding tubes and other means. It is an expression of your desires and that is your decision.
A Designation of Health Care Surrogate is a document by which you give the power and the right to a third person to make decisions regarding the medical care you are to receive for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself, for one reason or another, such as if you are unconscious or your mental faculties aren’t functioning properly.
A Last Will and Testament only comes into effect after the maker has died and has no application to a medical emergency situation.
I hope I have answered your question, G.L., and I hope that you have no use for any of those documents for quite some time. However, as we all know, we know not when our time is up and when the grim reaper will come looking for us and that is why we plan for the worst while hoping for the best.

Any readers with specific legal questions for this “Ask a Lawyer” column are invited to submit those questions to the Editor of this newspaper who will pass it along to the attorney. If you need assistance with a consumer matter, such as an unfair and deceptive collection practice, or garnishment of wages, a mortgage foreclosure or other such things, and you cannot afford an attorney, call the Legal Services office closest to you, which provides free legal assistance to qualified individuals, or call the Florida Bar Referral service at 1-800-342-8011. I wish you good luck in obtaining access to our legal system, no matter what your income and asset level might be.

The foregoing was written by attorney Pierce Kelley, who is a member of the Florida Bar Association. The contents reflect his personal opinions and beliefs.