As a law firm, we’re used to researching and addressing laws on a daily basis. But there’s one law you might not find in our collection of legal books, and that’s the Law of Unintended Consequences.

The Law of Unintended Consequences is a socio-economic term. It can also be used as an adage, warning people about the unanticipated consequences of their actions. Those consequences can be positive or negative. For example, aspirin is a medication designed to relieve pain, but it was later discovered that the pill also worked as an anticoagulant that helped prevent heart attacks or reduce the severity of strokes. Aspirin treats pain, and unintentionally, can also help with other medical issues. Another example is the enactment of the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the manufacturing, transportation, or sales of alcohol. Despite the regulations, the prohibition inadvertently led to a boom in speakeasies. The prohibition of alcohol may have inadvertently led to more alcohol establishments.

Another unintended consequence has recently arisen, as it relates to the treatment of coronavirus: a person’s DNR order may impede any treatment for COVID-19.

A Do-Not-Resuscitate Order, commonly known as a DNR, is a legal order indicating that a person does not want to receive CPR if their heart stops beating. The DNR can also prevent other medical interventions such as ventilators or being intubated. A DNR is intended to be a legal record of someone’s intentions to pass away from natural causes. However, the unintended consequence of this document is possibly preventing a coronavirus patient from getting life-saving treatment.

If someone has a DNR in place, it’s likely they drafted this document thinking about their later years or what treatment they may or may not want if faced with a terminal disease. They probably were not visualizing themselves, as an otherwise healthy person, dealing with a virus that can be treated with medication and breathing apparatuses.

So, what can someone do to address that Law of Unintended Consequences and make sure that their DNR doesn’t create any legal obstacles for coronavirus treatment? You might want to consider drafting a comprehensive advance directive for health care and medical power of attorney.

An advanced directive (sometimes called a living will or a health care proxy) is an estate planning tool in which a person lists their medical preferences, such as treatment, testing, and other care options. This form puts doctors and hospitals on notice and is only used when a person is unable to make or express their medical decisions for themselves because of illness or injury. An advance directive authorizes your medical power of attorney (also known as a health care agent or health care proxy) to make whatever medical decision you specify on your behalf and ensure you receive the healthcare you need. This power of attorney can also look at your medical records and speak directly with your health care professionals.

If you have preferences about what medical treatment you want, and in what circumstances, now is the time to memorialize those choices in an advance directive. You should also put your medical power of attorney on notice as to your specific medical wishes. You don’t want to wait until it’s too late, when the only person or thing that can express your medical preferences for you is your DNR order.

Have Questions? Contact the Estate Planning Experts at Brian M. Douglas & Associates

The coronavirus outbreak has many people thinking about what they need to do to take care of themselves and their families. By drafting an advance directive and a medical power of attorney, you’ll ensure that your medical preferences are recorded and will be honored. If you have any additional questions about these legal documents, or if you would like to schedule an estate planning appointment, please reach out to Brian M. Douglas & Associates at (770) 933-9009. We would be happy to help.