Will paramedics follow the instructions in my living will if they are called to my home?
UPDATED: April 20, 2011
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Paramedics who come to your assistance when 911 is called will not change their response based on a living will. Paramedics are not doctors. Their job is to stabilize the patient and transport him or her to a hospital where decisions about treatment can be made. However, in some states, they are authorized to follow a doctor's written "Do Not Resuscitate" order.
To ensure your "Do Not Resuscitate" order, the first step you should always take is having your doctor sign off on the order. Their signature gives authority to the order so that hospital staff and in some states paramedics are obligated to follow the instructions. Next, keep the Do Not Resuscitate order in an accessible place. Ideally, in your wallet or next to your bed. If you are under hospice care, give a copy to the hospice nurse. This way if paramedics are summoned, she can show them the Do Not Resuscitate order and they will most likely honor it.
The best means of avoiding being resuscitated is to make it clear that once you are unconscious, you do not want anyone to contact 911. Leaving this instruction with those in your home is not guaranteed to work, but most family members do desire to honor a dying person’s wishes.
The rest of the contents of the living will are things that paramedics are not authorized to perform. Paramedics do not insert feeding tubes or place patients on breathing machines. They simply stabilize a patient and transport them to the hospital for further determination. The best way to make sure your living will is honored at the hospital is to keep a copy with you, usually in your wallet or give it to whomever is handling your care.