Is a DNR the same as a Living Will?

Posted on

Nov 17, 2023


Pennsylvania - South Central PA

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The short answer is no, they are not the same. A DNR stands for a DO NOT RESUSCITATE order.  A Living Will is a completely different document that is used during a very different time.

A DNR should be entered into at your doctor’s office or in the hospital, not at your local estate planning and elder law attorney’s office.

Typical estate planning documents that an attorney will assist you with would include a financial and medical power of attorney as well as a Last Will and Testament and maybe a Trust of some type. The confusion often lies in the fact that in a medical power of attorney, you will often see a Living Will as a part of the document.

This is collectively known as an Advance Healthcare Directive if medical power of attorney and living will are together in one document. The Living Will does not kick in until the individual is “end-stage medical.” While there is a very long medical definition for this term, I simply like to state it as when two qualified physicians put in writing that there is no realistic hope of recovery and that you will always remain vegetative, comatose, permanently unconscious, and terminally ill. A medical power of attorney, living will, or advanced health care directive are often documents that are obtained from your estate planning and elder law attorney and not from your health care provider.

On the other hand, a DNR or DO NOT RESUSCITATE order is intended to let emergency and other medical professionals know whether or not they should resuscitate you. Methods often used for resuscitation would be things such as defibrillators, breathing tubes, ventilators, CPR, and other invasive techniques.

The DO NOT RESUSCITATE order comes into play when the heart has stopped beating or the person has stopped breathing. The medical power of attorney, on the other hand, comes into play when the person simply cannot answer questions for themselves. That could be for numerous other reasons, such as being under sedation or incapacitated, unconscious due to an accident, or unable to speak.

Certainly, it does not necessarily mean that the heart has stopped beating or that you have stopped breathing. The Living Will does not kick in until the end of life, but the heart is often beating, sometimes due to heroic and lifesaving measures, but the DNR will prevent those “heroics” if that is your wish.

We truly believe that it is imperative for you to talk to your estate planning and elder law attorney about the estate planning documents as outlined above as well as discuss with your doctor about a DNR order. While you are discussing the DNR order, we would also recommend that you have a conversation with your healthcare professional about a POLST (Physician’s Order of Life-Sustaining Treatment). These are documents that will be obtained directly from your doctor and they will be able to assist you with the nuances of how they work.

We hope this article provided insight into the definition of a DO NOT RESUSCITATE order and the difference between a medical power of attorney and a Living Will. If you would like further information about these items, contact our office.  We’d be more than happy to assist you. Call us at (717) 845-5390.


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