Health Care Directives and Do Not Resuscitate Orders: Do You Know the Difference?

January 25th, 2017

Health Care Directives and Do Not Resuscitate Orders:  Do You Know the Difference?

By:  Nicole D. Lindsey and Heather Rooney McBride


Health care directives and Do No Resuscitate (“DNR”) Orders are two (2) types of declarations that allow you to inform your family members and medical professionals about the kind of care you want when you are unable to communicate those wishes yourself.  Some use the term “DNR” when referring to a health care directive, but they actually are not the same thing.

A health care directive can be set forth in a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, which is also known as a medical power of attorney.  This document allows you to name a trusted person, or several persons, to make medical decisions for you in the event you are unable to communicate on your own.  The person you name to make these decisions is generally called your agent or attorney-in-fact.  The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care performs two (2) functions:

  • It informs your agent of your wishes regarding your health care decisions and gives your agent the authority to oversee the process of carrying out your wishes; and
  • It gives your agent the power to make other necessary decisions about health care matters on your behalf when you are unable to make such decisions for yourself.

Health care directives often include directions to medical professionals about the types of care and extent of care you wish to receive if you cannot communicate such decisions independently.  Life support, life-prolonging procedures, artificial nutrition and hydration, and other medical or surgical procedures that are intended to keep a person alive are generally the subject of the health care directive.

A DNR Order is quite different from a health care directive.  If a medical emergency occurs, a DNR order alerts emergency personnel that you do not wish to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).  While a DNR order or directive can be combined within a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, it is often a separate document that an individual will keep with him or her in the event of an emergency situation.  DNR orders are sometimes made to supplement other health care directives, often by those who are critically ill and feel strongly that they do not want to receive life-prolonging treatment when close to death.  If you are in the hospital, you may ask your doctor to add a DNR order to your medical record.  If you are not hospitalized, you can prepare a prehospital or out-of-hospital DNR order in the event paramedics are called to assist you.

While advanced planning is a difficult topic, it is important to ensure that your family knows your wishes as to the care and treatment you wish to receive at the end of life, and to allow you the opportunity to make such decisions for yourself in advance of any critical medical situation.

If you would like assistance with preparing a Medical Power of Attorney, an Advance Director, and/or a DNR Order, please contact our experienced estate planning attorneys today.