The Difference Between a Living Will and a Do-Not-Resuscitate Order

Both a living will and a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) are advance directives. They both provide instructions on what to do if someone becomes incapacitated and cannot make medical decisions. However, each one has a specific purpose.

A living will which is also called an instruction directive in New Jersey, is used to tell others what choices you have made regarding care should you become incapacitated and unable to share your wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment. The New Jersey Department of Health advises that life-sustaining treatment can be withdrawn when the patient is permanently unconscious, in a terminal condition, in a situation where using life-saving methods would only prolong death or life-sustaining treatment would be ineffective and cause more harm than good. A living will gives medical providers instruction on your choices for life-saving procedures. For example, you can choose whether you want blood transfusions or dialysis. The other benefit is that a living will gives your family a clear explanation of what treatment you would like and eliminates the need for them to make this difficult decision.

A Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) is used to allow patients who do not want aggressive treatment at the end of life or who would not benefit from such treatment to make their wishes known. If your heart stops, a DNR will alert medical personnel that they should not revive you. The DNR is usually used for the elderly, medically frail or acutely ill individuals and is very clear in its directive—under no condition should you be revived with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). This order is signed by a doctor and can be put into place each time you have a stay in a hospital or other medical treatment. With a DNR, your decision is very clear and can help others honor the choice you have made.

A living will is more complex and can provide different options as circumstances change. A DNR offers only one option. For example, if an older woman collapses in a nursing home and goes into a coma, her choices for medical care such as being kept alive artificially can be communicated through a living will. If no living will is in place, her family will have to make decisions for the treatment provided to her. Also, they will need to decide whether or not to have a DNR. Unfortunately, sometimes family members will not be able to agree or will make decisions that are not in the best interest of the patient. Identifying what you would like to have done in certain situations ensures your treatment and care is what you want it to be.

Depending on your priorities and stage of life, you have several options when it comes to creating important documents such as a will. Contact Bratton Law for a consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney who will review your situation and explain your options.