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Life-or-Death Differences Between DNRs and Living Wills

| Mar 13, 2017 | Firm News |

Teresa M. Clemons, Office Manager

Make no mistake … there is a HUGE difference between a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and a Living Will.

My dear 82-year-old friend was admitted to the hospital with some stomach issues by the attending ER physician. Before moving him to his room, hospital staff members came to ask him a couple of questions. Their last question: do you have a DNR? Not completely understanding, he said, “If I start to go, don’t bring me back. I would never want to live hooked up to tubes or as a ‘vegetable.’” This “vegetable” status is what came to his mind when thinking about a “failed” resuscitation. They explained a bit more, “If you go into cardiac arrest, we will not use the paddles or CPR to revive you.” Again, he connected that to living in a state that he would never want to be. He said that he signed the form, thinking that the matter was resolved, and they put a wrist band on him with “DNR” in bold, red letters.

In hearing about this, I told some of my co-workers about his situation. They mentioned that DNRs, especially for a relatively healthy man, are definitely not the norm. I made a few calls and discovered that my friend had a Living Will. This document states that if he were to enter a persistent vegetative state with NO chance of recovery, he did not want any heroics to keep him alive. Instead, in that situation, he would just want pain management and comfort care. However, for the Living Will to go into effect, the patient would first need to be in a vegetative state.

This is a HUGE difference from the DNR he had signed. Compare two patients, one with a DNR, one without. Both patients are relatively healthy, but have a heart attack out of the blue. The non-DNR patient would receive routine health-saving treatment, and would therefore have a good chance of recovery. The DNR patient, however, would not receive this treatment and would be left to die, despite the strong likelihood that he could return to a relatively normal lifestyle if the treatment had been administered.

My friend’s daughter called the hospital, told them the situation, and asked them to take off the bracelet. The nurse told her that it is not that easy. The daughter quickly went to the hospital with a copy of his Living Will. The staff took it and left the room. Again, the daughter told them to take the bracelet off, and my friend requested this as well. Finally, the nurse asked everyone in the room to be silent. She looked directly at my friend and asked if he was freely requesting this change because this was his wish, and not because he was being told what to do. He said yes, and clarified that he thought the ER staff had been referring to the terms of his Living Will when he signed the DNR form.

Please make yourself and your loved ones aware of the major differences between a Living Will and a DNR. Fortunately, the confusion was resolved quickly enough for my friend so there was no harm done. However, this could easily be a real “life or death” mistake.