We investigated attitudes toward resuscitation by interviewing 97 competent patients classified as do not resuscitate, 60 physicians, 80 family members, and 84 nurses. In addition, 58 family members of incompetent do not resuscitate patients were interviewed. Interview patients were generally elderly, female widows with a diagnosis of malignancy. The majority (66%) preferred that their medical decision making be shared with the physician and/or family. Only 38 patients (39%) could correctly define a "living will." After hearing the definition, 59 patients (61%) thought it was a good idea to ask noncritically ill patients at the time of hospital admission, if they had a living will. Fifty-six patients (58%) said they had discussed resuscitation with their physician, whereas 44 physicians (73%) said they had discussed it with the patient. Only 53 patients (55%) said that they thought their physician understood their wishes. Sixty-five patients (67%) wanted involvement in resuscitation decisions. Forty-eight patients (49%) offered "quality of life" reasons for not wanting to be resuscitated. Sixty-four patients (66%) did not think discussing resuscitation was cruel and insensitive. Eighteen physicians (30%) said they were uncomfortable discussing resuscitation with patients. We recommend introducing the topic of resuscitation early in the patient-physician relationship before diminished competency occurs.