What is the Difference Between a Living Will and a DNR?

Documents that give you the chance to document your health care wishes in case at some point in the future you are unable to state your wishes yourself are called medical advance directives. Two types of medical advance directives are the Living Will and the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate Order). Although they are both advance directives they each have a different job to perform.

The main job of the living will is to state whether you would or would not like to be kept alive artificially. The living will is something that you can decide to put in place yourself. The main job of the DNR is to state that you do not wish to receive CPR. The DNR is a doctor’s order and you can only put a DNR in place with the assistance of your doctor.

In Florida, the DNR on a special yellow form is the only advance directive that EMS first responders can acknowledge as your wish not to receive CPR. A living will on its own is not sufficient.

Sometimes people are a little nervous to put a living will in place due to a concern that their desire not to be kept alive artificially may be misinterpreted as a wish not to receive as much life saving treatment as possible. Fortunately, this is an unnecessary concern. Before a living will can speak for you, two doctors have to agree that you have reached the point where all that can be done medically is to keep you alive artificially. Up until that point, you are going to receive life saving treatment.

It is actually more likely that your health care surrogate (the person you have designated to speak for you) will have to step up and remind the doctors that you do have a living will and that you do wish for medical treatment to be stopped at the appropriate time.

None of us like to think that there may be a time when we are unable to communicate our medical treatment wishes, but the reality is that it can happen and it can happen without warning. Do yourself and your family a favor and put a living will, and if appropriate for your current medical condition and wishes, a DNR, in place today.