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Should you add a “DNR” order to your estate plans?

You’ve lived your life on your own terms, and you’d like to die on your own terms. With that in mind, you’ve done everything in your power to make sure that your ending is peaceful. You have a will, you’ve set up trusts for your heirs, you have powers of attorney in place and a living will for your end-of-life care. 

Why would you need a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR), too? 

A living will and a DNR are not the same thing 

Your living will serves as a guideline when you’re no longer able to speak for yourself, and your death is inevitable. You can (and should) have a very clear conversation with the person who holds your medical power of attorney regarding what sort of medical care you want. You can use them to address things like pain relief, comfort care, the withholding of food and so on. 

A DNR, in contrast, is a very specific document that basically tells doctors that they should not perform “high-intensity interventions” if your heart or your breathing stops – even if there is a possibility that your life could be saved. 

Without a DNR, there’s a strong possibility that a hospital physician will do everything they can to keep you alive – even if that means you would have a minimal quality of life. 

The vast majority of doctors prefer DNRs for themselves 

Curiously, roughly 90% of physicians have or want a DNR, and 80% of the general population says that they don’t want aggressive life-saving treatments like CPR, intubation, electric shock and other resuscitations that could leave them alive but brain-damaged or in a vegetative state. 

Why, then, do doctors inflict what they wouldn’t want for themselves on their patients? A lot comes down to the corporate culture of the modern hospital, which pushes maximum interventions for every patient, regardless of reason or effectiveness. Money, too, is involved: Hospitals can bill for life-saving measures, but they can’t bill for letting a patient quietly slip away. Finally, doctors are sometimes simply either too optimistic about a patient’s chances of a happy survival, when the reality often proves very grim. 

Planning for the future does mean planning for your end. The right guidance can help you avoid a life that’s prolonged against your will.


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