Q: What Is a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order and how does it work?

A: A Do Not Resuscitate Order is a legally binding physician's order for a patient, which is signed by the treating doctor, that no steps will be taken to restart a person's heart when it stops or to get a person breathing again if the patient stops breathing.

A DNR order is normally a result of a person's healthcare directive, which says that he or she does not want measures to be taken to keep the person alive. The decision to not resuscitate a person must be made by the individual, if competent to do so, or by the person's agent for healthcare, on a "living will'" or healthcare directive, if the person is not competent to do so. The patient or agent must ask for such an order.

The signed DNR order is placed in the patient's hospital chart. The family of the patient who does not want to be resuscitated often must remind the doctors and staff in a hospital about the order, because the first thing doctors and nurses want to do is to save someone's life if their patient does stop breathing or their heart ceases to beat.

The DNR order only works if the patient or the patient's family is clear with the doctors about it, and is able to be the patient's advocate in a setting where it is almost automatic that resuscitation will take place. In other settings, such as hospice care (care designed to keep someone comfortable in their last days for a dignified death, rather than trying to fix or save them during their last days),

DNR orders are fully respected without coaching or advocacy by family.