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Dear Dr. Roach: Ideal living will includes detailed instructions for care

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Dr. Keith Roach

DEAR DR. ROACH: At what point in COVID-19 does a person's do not resuscitate order become an issue? When does treatment become an "exceptional or extraordinary" effort? It would seem that organ transplants, if not coma/prolonged artificial ventilation would qualify. I have never seen anything on this issue.

-- R.S.

A: A do not resuscitate order is not one-size-fits-all. Ideally, a person considers carefully what they want and, with the help of an expert, writes up a document (called a "living will") to go over how that relates to a variety of circumstances.

Since it's impossible to consider every possible situation, it is also wise to discuss your feelings with a designated person who becomes a patient's health care proxy through a document called a "durable power of attorney for health care." This person can then help the team of doctors and others taking care of the patient in situations not specifically addressed by the living will. A living will may also specify that a person would want everything medically appropriate done, except in the case that they have been diagnosed with a serious or terminal disease.

In the case of COVID-19, many people who have contracted the infection have preexisting health conditions that have made them vulnerable, and have a living will indicating they don't want "exceptional or extraordinary" care. There are many other terms used, such as "heroic," but again, it is best to identify which specific interventions a person would or would not want. For some people, this can even include tube feedings, antibiotics and intravenous fluids.

However, many people with COVID-19 infection are healthy, young people. In these cases, we usually try absolutely everything we can, since some people, even among the very most ill, will pull through.


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