Many individuals who seek counsel in our office come in ready to talk about a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). They believe it to be a document that allows them to forgo life support in the event of a catastrophic event. However, the document which lets an individual express their wishes to refuse treatment in the event certain conditions are met is a living will, not a DNR. While most individuals should have a living will if there are situations in which they would not want to be kept alive, most individuals likely should NOT have a DNR.
A DNR is a document that a patient (or their agent under a health care proxy), may choose to execute and keep on file with their doctor. It is typically intended for patients who are terminally ill, or who have serious medical conditions that compromise their quality of life. It is a document that basically exercises the patient’s right to die a natural death with no interventions, regardless of the circumstances. For example, if a patient has terminal cancer and is expected to live another 6-12 months, and then they have a heart attack, a DNR dictates that no CPR should be performed. A DNR is designed to prevent life-saving treatment from being administered.
A Living Will is a very different document. It does not signal that treatment should be withheld in every circumstance. Instead, it gives a person’s health care agent, known in New York as their health care proxy, guidance as to the person’s wishes regarding withholding or withdrawing treatment such as respirators. Nothing is automatic, and medical personnel do not get to make the decision – the health care proxy does. It is a good document for all individuals to have so that in the case of a catastrophic medical event, someone who knows their wishes can make decisions for them.
If there are situations in which you or a loved one would not want to be kept alive at all costs, you should speak to an attorney about having a living will drawn up as soon as possible. Without it, if you are unable to speak for yourself, you run the risk of having your wishes ignored. Here at Russo Law Group, we regularly prepare living wills for clients who would not want to be kept alive in certain catastrophic medical situations, and we would be happy to assist you in getting this important document in place.