By Allison Prout, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Spring 2017

You’ve probably heard of a DNR—it stands for “Do Not Resuscitate.” Either you have one, or you’ve heard it mentioned on one of the myriad doctor shows on TV. Many clients haven’t heard of a living will, and those that have assume that living wills are interchangeable with DNRs, because both deal with end-of-life treatment decisions. In fact, DNRs and living wills don’t do the same thing at all! This post highlights the crucial differences you need to know about DNRs and living wills so you can decide which one is right for you!

What’s the Difference?

A living will explains how and when you want to receive medical treatments if you become incapacitated (think, in a vegetative state, or terminally ill). Basically, it tells the doctor to do whatever s/he can to save you.

With a living will, you can first decide how you want to be ruled incapacitated (having at least two physicians rule a patient incapacitated is standard). You can then decide how you want to be saved— do you want to be kept on artificial life support? How do you want to receive treatment? Which medications do you want to be given, and how much (just enough to alleviate pain?)? Are you comfortable with being put on mechanical ventilation?

A DNR, on the other hand, does the opposite of a living will. A DNR tells the doctor not to take life-saving measures should you stop breathing or should your heart stop; specifically, it directs the doctor not to perform CPR.

Why Have a Living Will or DNR?

If you have a living will or a DNR, you’ve given yourself all the power: You get to decide how you want to be treated, so if you aren’t able to make that decision when the time comes due to incapacity, you’ve already set the ground rules! You’ve already determined how you want your end-of-life treatment to work.

What’s more, we recently had a client who was concerned about her children having to make difficult decisions once she enters a hospital and can’t make decisions for herself. With a living will or a DNR, you make it easier for your loved ones, who may be struggling with what decisions to make, by telling them what your wishes are.

So, with a living will on file, you’ve given yourself the power to decide that you want life-saving measures to be taken. Alternatively, with a DNR, you’ll ensure that your wish for no life-saving measures to be taken is honored. Either way, you’ll be taking a proactive step now to ensure you’re protected in the future!