Dear Annie: My three siblings and I are in a terrible situation right now over our 88-year-old mother. When she first moved into her seniors residence almost a year ago, one of the papers that we were asked to fill out was a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form. We didn't think it was a good time to talk to our mom about it because she was going through a lot at the time, and we didn't want to upset her further. We couldn't agree about what to put on the form (it was a two-two tie). Since my brother is named as her "power of attorney" in case of incapacity, even though our mom wasn't incapacitated, we agreed to let him decide. So, it was indicated on the form to give CPR if necessary (so, no DNR order).
Fast-forward to a month ago when we decided to have the residence physician take her on as her patient. I went with her on her assessment visit. The head nurse was present, who knows my mother well. There was some mild cognitive impairment, but my mother was quite lucid and understood his questions. The DNR was discussed with my mother. She told him that she didn't want them to try to bring her back to life if her heart stopped. She signed the DNR form herself.
I sent an email to my siblings summarizing the visit, mentioning my mother's decision to have a DNR on her file. I did not see what was coming next.
My brother accused me of going behind everyone's back to change the order in her file to what I "wanted." He said that I should have not allowed for the change to happen, that I should have said to the doctor that we needed to discuss it as a family before changing it. He was furious with the doctor for deciding that our mother was able to make the decision on her own after an hour of meeting her.
My brother went to visit my mom the next weekend (he lives out of town) and asked her if she enjoyed her life and wanted to continue living. When she said "yes," he decided that was good enough for him, and he changed the form in her file, asking for CPR (indicating in capital letters, "My mother wants to live!!" on the form).
My brothers think that only people whose life has no value (no quality of life, no enjoyment) should have a DNR. They believe that if there is a chance of a reasonable quality of life, no matter how small, it is worth risking the negative consequences of CPR. My sister and I think that signing a DNR order prevents unnecessary suffering at the end of life — real CPR is not like on TV and would cause physical injuries — and that current quality of life has nothing to do with it.
Now my brothers think that my sister and I don't think my mother's life has value, which is really hurtful.
We are so far apart on this issue. It has caused a lot of anger and mistrust. I'm not sure how we can come together again as a family. — Saddened Siblings
Dear Siblings: As a family, and for your mother's sake, you should come together on this issue. You said that your mother had mild cognitive impairment when she signed the new document. To ensure that all documents are in her best interest, allow your brother, as her power of attorney, to continue to be the point of contact for your mother's DNR.
The most important thing you can do for your mom's golden years is to have her children get along. So try to make amends with your brothers.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]tors.com.