The distraught husband repeated over and over: “That’s not what she wanted.” Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) were kneeling next to his wife, administering life-saving procedures. Her husband tried futilely to make them stop. He showed them her Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will. She did not want to be resuscitated. The responders did not stop. They attempted to resuscitate her and took her to the hospital.

Why did the EMTs continue the resuscitation even though the husband had legal documents stating otherwise? Because the documents were not medical orders. Emergency response teams must act quickly in a medical crisis. They often do not have time to determine whether you have a valid Health Care Power of Attorney or living will explaining treatments you want provided or withheld. They cannot stop resuscitation efforts without a signed medical order from a doctor.

Arizona law provides two medical documents that protect a patient’s end-of-life wishes. A Prehospital Medical Care Directive informs emergency personnel outside of a hospital setting that they are NOT to start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). They will withhold all life-sustaining efforts. This one-page document is an official Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) medical order signed by a doctor and witness or notary. The Arizona form must be printed on orange paper and displayed in plain sight in your home.

A Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will are useful legal documents in most circumstances for future medical care, but in an emergency situation, first responders will rely only on the Prehospital Medical Care Directive signed by a doctor.

The second document is the Physician Orders for Lifer-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form, printed on pink paper, and signed by the doctor and patient after discussing what is important to you, your diagnosis, what is likely to happen in the future and what your treatment options are. This document is usually recommended for seriously ill or very frail individuals. A POLST form stays in your medical records and travels with you when you move between health facilities.

If you or your loved one is considering a Do Not Resuscitate decision, now is the time to discuss your wishes with your doctor and options like the POLST and Prehospital Medical Care Directive. Both forms are available from your doctor.

For more information on health care directives and estate questions, call Senior Village at (520) 314-1042 and request an appointment with the Forms and Documents Team.

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