Living Wills and DNRs: Very Different Documents
Written by Teresa D. Lancaster
When contemplating health care decision making, clients often want to discuss two documents: a Living Will and a Do Not Resuscitate order, or DNR. People often confuse these two documents, and there are some very important differences.
A Living Will is usually a fairly standard document, and every adult should have one. It is sometimes included with your health care power of attorney. This document states what care you want if you are in a “terminal” or “persistent vegetative” state and your doctors believe that the condition is irreversible. Typically in these cases, people do not want to continue medical care, other than to provide pain relief and comfort.
The Living Will does not mean that doctors will not do what they can to provide treatment. If you are having a medical crisis, you will and should be treated for that crisis. Your agent named under your health-care power of attorney should direct the medical team to do what is necessary, in accordance with your specific wishes under the living will, to treat your condition. It is only when those treatments fail that life-sustaining measures would be stopped (breathing tubes, resuscitation, feeding tubes, etc.).
A DNR is a very different document. A DNR states that you do not want any kind of life-saving measures. These are sometimes referred to as “orange cards” because they are printed on orange paper. Usually a person would have this document on his or her refrigerator or other prominent place for paramedics to see if they come to the home. This directive means that doctors are not supposed to attempt life-saving measures. For example, if you are found collapsed on your floor, the paramedics will not perform CPR. This document is typically appropriate for people with terminal illnesses or those who are elderly and simply don’t want life saving measures. A DNR is not appropriate in most cases for healthy people.
It is very important to understand the differences between these directives and to discuss your needs with your estate planning attorney and/or physician. The professionals can help guide you regarding which documents are appropriate for your situation.