Make ‘do not resuscitate’ decisions before a crisis arises

July 27, 2017

Do not resuscitate. Three words that, for some, can be so intimidating and scary yet are so important when it comes to planning for your healthcare. What those words mean can also be so confusing. So let’s start with some basic understanding.

Do not resuscitate does not mean do not treat.  What it does mean is you have had a discussion with your family and physician about what you want to happen in the event that your heart were to stop beating.  This is a very difficult discussion to have and one that should not be taken lightly.  Involving your family and your physician is important to help arrive at the decision that is best for you.

Let me share a personal story. I had this discussion with my parents a few years before they passed away. Both of them had some medical issues, but still were active enough to live in their own home. However, it was important to me to know what their wishes were if the situation ever arose where they could not speak for themselves. As we discussed their wishes, it became clear that they did not want someone to attempt to revive them if there was little hope of resuming their normal level of activity. This was very helpful for me as I then understood that their goal was to live a productive life, not just survive. As it turned out, this information was very helpful during the last few weeks of their lives. I was able to discuss with their physicians what my parents’ desires were and ensure their desires were respected.

I encourage everyone to have these discussions with their families and ultimately with your physician. As we all age, it is important that we control the healthcare we are to receive. It is never too early to begin these discussions and it is perfectly appropriate to change your mind over time. What is most important is to have the discussion with your family so that everyone is aware of what your desires are. Too often these decisions are left for the last minute, to be decided under times of stress during a health crisis. Don’t let that happen to you or your family.  Please ensure that everyone understands what your desires are. 

For more information or to download any legal documents such as a healthcare power of attorney, living will or the Five Wishes®, visit

Ronald Stahl, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer at Wilson Medical Center.