A living will and a Do Not Resuscitate Order, known as a DNR, are very different documents. However, many people confuse the two. They both address end of life issues and are used in different settings, according to the article “One Senior Place: Know the difference between ‘living will’ and ‘do not resuscitate’” from Florida Today.
What is a Living Will?
A living will is a written statement describing a person’s wishes about receiving life-sustaining medical treatment in case of a terminal illness if they are near death or in a persistent vegetative state. This includes choices such as whether to continue the use of artificial respiration, a feeding tube and other highly intensive means of keeping a person alive.
The living will is used to make your wishes clear to loved ones and to physicians. It is prepared by an estate planning elder care attorney, often when having an estate plan created or updated. To ensure it is valid and the instructions can be carried out, be sure to have this document created properly.
What is a DNR?
A DNR is a medical directive used to convey wishes to not be resuscitated in the event of respiratory or cardiac arrest. This document needs to be signed by both the patient and their treating physician. It is often printed on brightly colored paper, so it can be easily found in an emergency.
The DNR should be placed in a location where it can be easily and quickly found. In nursing homes, this is typically at the head or foot of the bed. At home, it is often posted on the refrigerator.
The DNR needs to be immediately available to ensure that the patient’s last wishes are honored.
A key mistake made by well-meaning family members is to have the DNR with someone else, rather than at home or at the bedside of the patient. If the DNR cannot be found and emergency medical responders arrive on scene, they are legally bound to provide CPR or other medical care to revive the patient.
When the DNR is available, the emergency responders will not initiate CPR if they find the patient in cardiopulmonary arrest or respiratory arrest. They may instead provide comfort care, including administering oxygen and pain management.
If a person is admitted to the hospital, their living will is placed on the chart. Depending on the state’s laws, a certain number of physicians must agree the patient is in a persistent vegetative state or has an end-state condition and can no longer communicate. At that point, the terms of the living will are followed.
In addition to having these documents created with your estate plan, make sure that family members know where they can be found.
Reference: Florida Today (July 19, 2022) “One Senior Place: Know the difference between ‘living will’ and ‘do not resuscitate’”