With thousands of Americans ill with coronavirus, it’s not unusual for people to ask about the difference between a living will and a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order.
Lehigh Valley Live recently published an article that asks “What’s the difference between a DNR and a living will for coronavirus patients if they need a ventilator?” The article explains that a Do Not Resuscitate order, or DNR, is placed in a patient’s medical record to tell the doctor and medical staff that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) shouldn’t be tried if the patient stops breathing or suffers a cardiac event. A DNR order is based on the doctor’s medical opinion that resuscitation would be futile or result in harm or pain to the patient. A DNR is written by a physician—not by a patient — although it’s sometimes done at a patient’s request.
It’s important to understand that a DNR is specific about CPR. It doesn’t say that the patient shouldn’t be treated. With COVID-19, “treatment” includes the use of a ventilator, so it’s use is not impacted by a DNR. Therefore, neither a living will nor a DNR should keep a coronavirus patient from using a ventilator to treat the illness and make him breathe comfortably.
In many states, a living will is one part of a document called an advanced directive. An advanced directive has two parts. The first includes what’s called either a health care proxy or health care power of attorney. In this section, a person grants a person (known as an agent) whom he selects the power to make medical decisions on his behalf, if he’s unable to do so for himself. This section also authorizes the release of the person’s medical information to the agent and directs medical professionals to accept the decisions made by the agent.
The second part is the living will. This is the piece that’s causing confusion for some people. This is an instructional directive that states the person’s wishes concerning medical care, in the event of certain specified conditions, such as permanent unconsciousness, irreversible brain damage, or an incurable, terminal condition. The person states the kind of life sustaining treatment they’d want withheld or removed under those circumstances.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major motivator for individuals and couples to address these needs, which a lot of people have previously been putting off.
Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to get help with drafting these estate planning documents, coronavirus pandemic or no pandemic.