In its most simple form, "DNR" is a physician's order directing a clinician to withhold any efforts to resuscitate a patient in the event of a respiratory or cardiac arrest. The literal form, do not resuscitate, is more precisely worded as do not attempt resuscitation. While originally intended for hospitalized patients, the concept of withholding resuscitative efforts has since been extended to include patients in nursing homes, children with incurable genetic or progressive neurologic diseases, and terminally ill patients in the home or hospice setting.
More broadly, the DNR order has become a part of the ritual of death in American society. For the patient, a DNR order (or the absence of a DNR order) establishes how death will likely ensue. The introduction of DNR orders also marked a pivotal change in the practice of medicine, for it was the first order to direct the withholding of treatment. DNR orders are so commonplace and widely accepted in everyday practice that nearly all physicians and nurses have had some experience in determining whether to invoke or adhere to the order when it is written.
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