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The Law Office of Kevin Hancock > News > Living Trust > Living Wills: DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) vs. Living Will

Living Wills: DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) vs. Living Will

Living Wills: DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) vs. Living Will

Life can be incredibly unpredictable, making preparing for the worst a good idea. There are many ways we can find ourselves incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions. However, many people have strong opinions as to what kind of care they would want to have in such cases.

With an advance directive, you can provide guidance to your loved ones and doctor(s) about how you want your treatment to be handled in the worst-case scenarios.  Advance directives are legally binding instructions that make clear your preference given certain specific medical scenarios.  Let’s look at two types of advance directives and how they differ.

  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) – A DNR is a general directive that if your heart stops or you stop breathing, under any circumstances, the doctors are not allowed to resuscitate you. Most people enter and sign this type of directive when they have been hospitalized with a terminal illness or injury or placed in hospice care.  Under normal circumstances and without such a directive in place, if your heart stop or you stop breathing, the hospital staff are legally required to try to revive you through a variety of resuscitation efforts, including defibrillation, chest compressions, intubation, and artificial ventilation.  With a DNR in place, you can prevent them from attempting such measures, if you wish.  In order to be effective, the directive must be in writing an on an approved form.
  • Living Will – A Living Will, also known as an Advance Directive or End of Life Directive, is a more elaborate legal document that gives instructions on how you would want your medical care attended to should you be determined by two doctors to be in a persistent vegetative state or a terminal condition. A persistent vegetative state essentially means a situation where you have no measurable brain activity beyond basic brain stem (i.e. involuntary breathing and/or involuntary heartbeat).  A terminal condition is a situation where you are in an incurable or irreversible condition and life support is deemed to be only postponing the moment of death.  Your options under a Living Will are to determine a timeframe for keeping you on life sustaining procedures, and your options are to remove life sustaining procedures immediately, after a period of time or have them kept on indefinitely.  The Living Will includes provisions for what kind of palliative care you would want to make you comfortable, including pain management and social care such as washing and eating.  Living wills can also give instruction on organ and tissue donations.

The purpose of both a DNR and/or a Living Will is to give clear directions on your wishes in those conditions.  Most people who are relatively young and healthy, unless there are specific reasons otherwise, do not want or need a DNR in place.  On the other hand, everyone over the age of 18 years should have a Living Will in place to remove conflict, doubt and/or confusion amongst family and friends should you ever be incapacitated and in a persistent vegetative state or terminal condition.

For assistance with making these decisions, you should always consult an attorney and your doctors, and we recommend talking with your family and friends, especially the one(s) you designate as decision maker(s) under your medical power of attorney.