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Illinois DOC Accused of Fraudulently Obtaining Do Not Resuscitate Orders From Mentally Incompetent Prisoners

by Jordan Arizmendi

A report by Chicago’s WBEZ on April 4, 2023, revealed a chilling accusation against the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC): That officials got signatures on Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders from prisoners suffering dementia or mental illness.

The charge was leveled by a federal monitor overseeing the settlement in a class-action lawsuit accusing DOC of providing prisoners unconstitutionally bad healthcare. Dr. John Raba was appointed by Judge Jorge L. Alonso, who is presiding over the suit in the federal court for the Northern District of Illinois. [See: PLN, Jan. 2023, p.12.] As monitor, Dr. Raba investigated 35 DOC prisoner deaths, of which three involved a DNR or living will.

According to Illinois law, patients admitted to a healthcare facility must be told of their right to make an advance directive, of which there are three types allowed: 1) a health care power of attorney; 2) a living will; and 3) a DNR order.

A healthcare power of attorney appoints someone else to make healthcare decisions for the patient, while a living will is applicable only with a terminal illness and foregoes death delaying procedures. With a similar aim, a DNR prevents CPR from being used on anyone not suffering a terminal illness whose heart stops.

In 2016, a man incarcerated at an Illinois prison signed a living will, making official his decision not to undergo any medical intervention designed to prolong his life. The signature was tough to read, though; the prisoner was suffering from dementia.

Then in 2019, the same prisoner signed another DNR. By that point, dementia had devoured his mind to the point that he was able to sign only with an ‘X.’ There was no indication that DOC tried to reach any outside contact for the man, like a family member or a lawyer. Eventually, he stopped eating meals, suffering with malnutrition until he died in 2021.

Most likely this tragedy is the result of chronic understaffing of DOC healthcare positions. Dr. Raba also found that 50% were unfilled. Meanwhile, the health of a glut of prisoners sentenced during the tough-on-crime 1990s continues to deteriorate as they age.

Additional sources: Chestnut Health Systems, WBEZ

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