Is there a Difference Between a Living Will and a DNR?

Another question that clients often ask is, “What is the difference between a Living Will and a DNR?” A related question that clients ask is, “Do I need a Living Will if I have a DNR?” and vice versa. Earlier, I have discussed Living Wills, see here, and DNRs, see here. As a refresher, a Living Will is a document that discusses a person’s wishes regarding whether to withhold or withdraw life-prolonging procedures (such as being on a ventilator, feeding tube, or life support). Whereas a DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate Order, is a medical order that states that a person does not want to be resuscitated, i.e. have CPR performed, if he or she goes into respiratory or cardiac arrest.

There are many differences between the Living Will and DNR. For example, for a Living Will to come into effect, two doctors must certify the person has a terminal condition, end-stage condition, or is in a persistent vegetative state; however, a DNR can be effective at any time. Another difference is that DNRs must be signed by the person’s doctor; whereas the Living Will, itself, is not signed by a doctor. Similarly, a DNR is considered to be a Doctor’s order; whereas a Living Will is a type of legal document. A more physical and tangible difference is that a Living Will can be typed on any type of paper; whereas a DNR must be typed or copied on yellow paper. A DNR on white paper or any other color but yellow is invalid and will not be followed. Also, even though a Living Will must be witnessed, there are few rules regarding the exact wording that must be present in the Living Will; whereas, a DNR form must either be on Form 1896 from the Florida Department of Health or a exact copy of Form 1896.

A person who has a DNR will still need a Living Will so that his or her wishes regarding life-prolonging procedures other than CPR will be known. Conversely, if a person does not want CPR in the event of cardiac arrest, he or she will still need to have a DNR, even if he or she already has a Living Will. Stated another way, if a person has a Living Will that states that he does not want any life-prolonging measures, if that person does not have a DNR and goes into cardiac arrest, the medical professionals will still perform CPR on the person.

So, it is important to talk to your doctor about a DNR form, even if you have a Living Will. Conversely, it is important to sign a Living Will even if you already have a DNR form.

At Osterhout & McKinney, we help clients and their families with end of life decisions. Please call us at (239) 939-4888.

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