It is a very good idea to create advance directives in order to plan for the possibility that you may one day be unable to make your own medical decisions. In doing so, there can be confusion about the difference between a health care directive and a “do-not-resuscitate” order (DNR). While both these documents are advance medical directives, they serve different purposes.
A health care directive is a document that you can use to give instructions regarding treatment if you become terminally ill or are in a persistent vegetative state and unable to communicate your instructions. The health care directive states under what conditions life-sustaining treatment should be terminated. If you would like to avoid life-sustaining treatment when it would be hopeless, you need a health care directive. A health care directive takes effect only when you are incapacitated and is not set in stone — you can always revoke it at a later date if you wish to do so.
When drawing up a health care directive, you need to consider the various care options and what you would like done. You need to think about whether you want care to extend your life no matter what or only in certain circumstances. A health care directive can dictate when you want a ventilator, dialysis, tube feeding, blood transfusions, and other life- saving or life-prolonging options.
A DNR is a different document. A DNR says that if your heart stops or you stop breathing, medical professionals should not attempt to revive you. This is very different from a health care directive, which only goes into effect if you are unable to communicate your wishes for care. Everyone can benefit from a health care directive, while DNRs are only for very elderly and/or frail patients for whom it wouldn’t make sense to administer CPR.
In addition to a stating basic wishes for care, a health care directive can also state who you choose to make major medical decisions for you when you’re unable. Furthermore, a health care directive can include directions on the final disposition of your remains and your funeral or celebration of life plans. Because a health care directive is so comprehensive, its a tool everyone should have.