When you make a decision about your personal health care, it often involves a lot of serious contemplation. And because you put so much time and thought into your preferences, you want to make certain that your choices are respected, both by your family and health care professionals.

To do that, you need to show that you have documented your health care preferences somewhere, so that they can be followed in the event of an emergency. But is tattooing “DNR” on your chest really enough to keep emergency responders from bringing you back to life if you don’t want to be?

Not really. Find out why in this post.

Why Aren’t DNR Tattoos Legally Binding?

There are a number of reasons why medical tattoos like DNRs are not legally binding. To start with, all we need to do is compare an actual document like a Living Will with the tattooed version.

A Living Will:

  • Lists both your health care preferences and names a representative.
  • Specifies in what instances you would or would not want to be resuscitated.
  • Often requires witness signatures.
  • Sometimes, depending on the jurisdiction, requires notarization or a doctor’s signature.
  • Must be revocable.
  • Must be dated.

A DNR tattoo isn’t able to cover all of these bases. For example, with a tattoo:

  • You aren’t able to clearly show if you have changed your mind at any point, and there’s a possibility that you did change your mind, but hadn’t got around to updating your ink.
  • The meaning can be misconstrued. How will an emergency responder know if your tattoo actually means “do not resuscitate”, or if it’s your loved one’s initials?
  • There are no actual signatures. Sure, you can tattoo a copy of a signature, but is it still a signature if the person putting it on your skin isn’t actually a witness?

It’s also important to note that emergency responders are not trained to look for or obligated to respect a DNR tattoo, and physicians are only protected from liability if the DNR they are following is legally recognized.

EMTs and doctors are not trained or required to look for medical tattoos like DNRs. Click To Tweet

Are Any Medical Tattoos Legally Binding?

Although DNR tattoos are the most popular, there are a variety of other medical tattoos that people get to either assist first responders or to communicate their wishes. Ultimately, none of them are legally binding, and will make little to no difference in your treatment. They include:

  • Blood type tattoos. Doctors can’t be sure that you have your blood type tattooed on yourself, or someone else’s. They also don’t know where to look, and probably don’t have time to check if you have your blood type tattooed behind your ear.
  • Organ donor tattoos. Again, doctors don’t have time to look for a tattoo indicating your desire to be an organ donor, and it’s too serious of a matter to go off of a tattoo. As with DNR tattoos, there’s also no certainty as to whether you have changed your mind since getting the tattoo.
  • Allergies. You can list your allergies in an artistic script if you really want to, but don’t expect medical staff to use that to guide your treatment plan.

Making a Living Will

The best way to dictate your health care preferences in the event of an emergency is to create a Living Will. Take steps to make sure that your wishes are communicated properly and clearly, like:

  • Talking to whoever you choose to represent you about your wishes and giving them a copy of your Living Will.
  • Leaving a copy of your Living Will with your doctor.
  • Carrying a copy of your Living Will in your wallet or purse.

Skip the Ink

While you may have the best of intentions in researching a medical tattoo, they’re often more trouble than just going the traditional route of creating a Living Will. So if you have been wondering about whether a medical tattoo like a DNR is a good option for you, you may just want to opt for a butterfly or a Chinese character instead, and leave the health care instructions in the hands of your doctor.

Have you ever considered a medical tattoo?

Posted by Brittany Foster

Brittany is a writer, editor, and content manager interested in law, marketing, and technology. She's been writing for LawDepot since 2014.