This article describes an 81-year-old woman who got a tattoo reading "Don't euthanize me" to express her medical wishes if she were incapacitated.

The Calgary grandmother recently had the words “Don’t euthanize me” tattooed on her arm.

“It’s drastic, but this very clearly says, ‘I’m going to live until God’s ready for me’,”

Would medical instructions tattooed in this way be legally binding in the absence of more recent legal documentation (e.g. an advance healthcare directive)?

For the purposes of this question, let's assume that the tattoo gave an explicit medical directive that would not be the default medical procedure (e.g. "do not resuscitate", "don't intubate me").

  • 1
    Canada's euthanasia law requires that a voluntary request be made and informed consent be given. So if she simply refrains from making any such request, the tattoo seems unnecessary. Conversely, if she has the tattoo but makes the request anyway, I'd think the law would still consider the request to be operative, as it is more recent than the tattoo. Oct 28, 2018 at 22:15
  • The question might be more relevant for medical procedures that can normally be carried out without an explicit request or consent (e.g. "don't intubate me"). Oct 28, 2018 at 22:16
  • @NateEldredge Good point, I've clarified the question to clarify that. Oct 28, 2018 at 22:19
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    @NateEldredge It's true that this woman is getting the tattoo more as a personal statement or to "future-proof" her intent should the laws change. I've clarified the question to say that I'm interested in a medical directive that would not be the "default" procedure, and that the tattoo was more recent than other documentation. Oct 28, 2018 at 22:24
  • Related:. www-washingtonpost-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/…
    – abelenky
    Oct 29, 2018 at 2:19

1 Answer 1


The specifics are set at the provincial level. In British Columbia, consent is required for medical treatment except in certain circumstances like being incapable of consenting. However, the law also says that

A health care provider must not provide health care under section 12 if the health care provider has reasonable grounds to believe that the person, while capable and after attaining 19 years of age, expressed an instruction or wish applicable to the circumstances to refuse consent to the health care.

In some circumstances (i.e. as laid out in section 12), such a tattoo could trigger a "DNR" effect, but the "must not" provision has a narrower range of application, where it limits the exception to the consent requirement in the case of life saving emergency measures for an unconscious patient.

More general advance directives can be given, but such a directive has more detailed requirements, and usually takes the form of filling out a printed form and including the signature of the individual and two witnesses. The aforementioned tattoo would not pass muster as a legal advance directive (even if the text were "don't transfuse me"). It might suffice under the "reasonable ground to infer consent refused" clause.

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