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There are many documents that can determine how you are treated when you are sick. The most important ones deal with times when you find yourself unable to communicate your wishes. These include being in a coma and going into cardiac or respiratory arrest.
You may have heard of DNRs and Living Wills, two documents included in the category described above. Both of them apply when you, the patient, are unable to speak for yourself. However, they are not the same and will result in different treatment for you.
In order to make sure your end-of-life needs are met, you must know the difference between a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate order) and a Living Will.
What a DNR Does
A DNR is a medical document and a Living Will is a legal one.
A DNR must be signed by your physician to be effective, but you can create a Living Will on your own.
A DNR deals with measures taken if you die and a Living Will applies to many other life-prolonging treatments.
A DNR is a medical order that tells your physicians not to perform CPR or use a breathing tube if your heart or lungs give out. In other words, if you are in cardiac or respiratory arrest, your doctors are directed not to aid you. If you die, your doctors are instructed not to try to bring you back.
Most often people suffering from long-term illness or who are very old choose to have DNRs. This prevents them from being brought back into a life of suffering when there is no chance they will ever return to full health. DNRs are usually signed when quality of life is already very low and the patient wants to preserve his or her dignity in death when his or her time comes.
What a Living Will Does
A Living Will, on the other hand, outlines specific life-prolonging treatments a patient wants or wishes to refuse. It is put in place so that, in the event a person is unable to communicate his or her wishes him or herself, the individual is still able to make important health care decisions. That is, if you are in a coma or another circumstance where you cannot speak, your family and doctors will know what to do (i.e., whether to keep you alive or “pull the plug”).
You can include your wishes about a DNR in your Living Will. However, it is most effective to have a DNR separate from your Living Will. DNRs are medical documents and are more often consulted in moments of quick decision-making, such as when you might need CPR. If your DNR is not readily available to your doctors, they will attempt CPR anyway; they are legally obligated to do so.
This is especially true if you live at home (are not a long-term patient at a hospital or hospice). If you have a DNR, you can get a DNR bracelet that will tell EMTs not to perform CPR if your heart stops or you stop breathing. Without that, they will attempt to resuscitate you.
If you are a long-term patient at a hospital or hospice, you can help ensure that your doctors are aware of your DNR by telling a loved one of your wishes. They will remind your physicians on a regular basis of the DNR and will make it less likely to be overlooked.
If you have a Living Will, you can specify addition life-prolonging/end-of-life treatments that you want or wish to reject, such as breathing or feeding tubes, intravenous hydration, and organ donation.
Get a Professionally Drafted “Living Will” – Free
You could pay a lawyer a lot of money to get a comprehensive, well-written Living Will for your state. Or you could get an Advance Medical Directive (Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney and Health-Care Proxy) free by clicking on Advance Medical Directive
Note: You should read this form carefully and make any changes that are necessary to fit your exact requirements. If you aren’t sure how to do this, contact a lawyer. Your legal cost will be much less than if your lawyer had to draft the language from scratch.