She is 80 and she lives in the little American town of Dyersville, Iowa, population 8,000. According to the Des Moines Register, Mary Wolhford is a retired nurse and a great-grandmother.

She wanted a living will and she doesn't like lawyers. Too bad because she certainly could of used some legal advice on this one.

She is quoted as saying: "Sometimes the nuttiest ideas are the most advanced." That may be so for the guy (or woman) who had the epiphany for the wheel but this may be more of the nuttiest idea being the most ... nuttiest!

In February of 2006, she walked into Gary's Professional Tattooing Studio in Galena, Illinois and asked Gary Lietz to tattoo the words: DO NOT RESUSCITATE right on her abdomen.

Wohlford tattooLawyer's red flag #1: she lives in Iowa but has the "document" executed in Illinois.

Mrs Wohlford told the press that she was inspired after watching the Terri Schiavo controversy play out on television in 2005. Schiavo was the Florida woman who collapsed into a coma in 1990 and never came out of it. The family fought over artificial life support and finally, Schiavo was allowed to die in April 2005 after a judge ordered the feeding tube removed.

Lawyer's red flag #2: the "document" is not dated.

In both Illinois and Iowa, a living will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses or, in Iowa, a notary public.

Lawyer's red flag #3: the "document" is not signed nor is it in her hand-writing.

How do you change it; revoke it? What if the second word is blacked-out with permanent marker? What if she has a "codicil" stamped on her bum?

But Mary Wolfhord - her daughter is the assistant dean of the medical school at Des Moines University - is not just nutty. She has a hard-copy, duly signed, all-legal living will stuck to her refrigerator, which is a good idea since her tattoo, as a living will, is about as valid as a bumper sticker.DNR tattoo

She's not the first living will tattoo either. Doctor Ken Iverson reported in the March 1992 issue of the Western Journal of Medicine:

"On his 65th birthday, a physician with more than 40 years of clinical experience in emergency medicine and general (trauma) surgery who was board certified in both, had a tattoo symbolizing Do not defibrillate or cardiovert (DND) placed on his left chest (see image above). This tattoo, copied from a picture prepared by a medical illustrator, was positioned lateral to his left areola. The tattooed symbol was used because it is an international form of communication not requiring words. As such, his desires would remain comprehensive if he were to die during his frequent foreign travels....

"In general, because of its ambiguity and the potential for compromising the integrity of both the emergency medical system and the physicians involved, neither a tattoo nor similar nonstandard directives should be followed."


  •, Famous Wills
  • Fuson, Ken, 80-year-old's tattoo spells out last wishes, The Des Moines Register, May 17, 2006 [retrieved from Internet on June 23, 2011]
  • Iverson, K., "The 'No Code' Tattoo - An Ethical Dilemma", 156(3) Western Journal of Medicine 309 (March, 1992)