A glossary of terms

Advance directive     A general term that describes one or more documents which may include living wills and medical powers of attorney. These documents allow a person to give instructions about future medical care if he or she is unable to participate in medical decisions due to serious illness or incapacity. Each state regulates the use of advance directives differently.

Allow natural death (AND)    When the patient and family request that resuscitation (CPR) attempts will not be performed if cardiac arrest occurs – and that the dying process is allowed to happen with full comfort measures. No other aggressive treatment will be performed.

Assisted suicide     Providing someone the means (drugs or a weapon) to commit suicide, knowing the person will use it to end his or her life. It is not legal in Indiana.

Brain death     The irreversible loss of all brain function. Most states legally define death to include brain death.

Capacity     As it relates to end-of life decisions, a person who has the ability to understand the medical problem – as well as the risks, benefits and alternatives to the recommended treatment options. “Capacity” is sometimes used interchangeably with “competency,” but does not mean the same thing. Competency is a legal status recognized by the court.

Do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order     At the request of a person or the person’s family, a DNR instructs healthcare providers not to attempt cardiovascular resuscitation (CPR) in case of cardiac or respiratory arrest. To be valid, a DNR must be signed by a physician. (An “out-of-hospital DNR” is written for people who do not want to receive CPR and are at home or some place other than an acute care facility.) Aggressive or supportive treatment may occur if a medical crisis arises. Patients may be kept alive with artificial nutrition, hydration, antibiotics and/or ventilation.

Hospice care     A program for providing end-of-life care with comfort measures to support people who are in the final stages of a terminal illness. Hospice also includes support for the patient’s family while the patient is alive, and during the time of bereavement – for at least a year after the patient’s death. Goshen Health offers hospice care.

Living will     A type of advance directive used for individuals to document their wishes for medical treatment during a terminal illness and if they are unable to communicate. The purpose of a living will is to guide the family and doctors in deciding how aggressively to use medical treatments to delay death. A living will may also be called a “directive to physicians,” “healthcare declaration” or “medical directive.”

Medical (or healthcare) power of attorney     A document used by an individual to appoint someone to make decisions about his or medical care if the individual is unable to communicate. This document may also be called a healthcare proxy, durable power of attorney for health care or appointment of a healthcare agent. The person appointed may be called a healthcare agent, surrogate, attorney-in-fact or proxy.

Palliative care     A comprehensive approach to treating serious or terminal illness that focuses on the physical, psychological, spiritual and existential needs of the patient. The goal is to achieve the best quality of life by relieving suffering, controlling pain or symptoms and enabling the patient to achieve maximal functional capacity. Respect for the patient’s culture, belief and values are an essential component. Palliative care is sometimes called “comfort care.” (All hospice-type care is palliative care, but not all patients receiving palliative care are hospice patients.)

Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (POST)     Not intended to replace a living will or medical power of attorney, a POST may be completed by a person who has at least one of the following:

  • An advanced progressive illness
  • An advanced chronic progressive frailty
  • A condition caused by injury, disease or illness from which, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, there can be no recovery and death will occur from the condition within a short period of time without the provision of life-prolonging measures
  • A medical condition that, if the person were to suffer cardiac or pulmonary failure, resuscitation would be unsuccessful or within a short period of time the person would experience repeated cardiac or pulmonary failure resulting in death

The POST is a physician order and therefore certified by the physician’s statement, signature and completion. POST addresses a person’s preferences for CPR; antibiotic use; artificially administered nutrition; and medical interventions, i.e. full comfort measures (allow natural death), limited additional interventions or full life-sustaining treatments.

Surrogate decision making     Allows an individual or group of individuals (usually family) to make decisions about medical treatments for a patient who has lost the capacity to make decisions and who does not have advance directives. A majority of states have passed statutes that permit surrogate decision making for patients without advance directives. 

Withholding or withdrawing treatment     Foregoing life-sustaining measures or discontinuing them after they have been used for a certain period of time.