What is a Living Will?

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A Living Will is a type of Advanced Healthcare Directive that specifies which medical treatments a person does or does not want when faced with a medical crisis, serious illness or end-of-life care, or when a person can no longer make those decisions for themselves (e.g., in a coma.). This document may also be called “directive to physicians,” “healthcare declaration,” or “medical directive.”

Glossary of Terms

These terms are commonly used in Living Wills.

Artificial nutrition and hydration: Used to replace eating and drinking to sustain the body either through a tube placed in the gastrointestinal tract or a vein. The purpose is to provide nutrition and nourishment to the body in the absence of the ability to eat or drink.

Capacity: Legal status imposed by the court. A person has medical decision making-capacity when he or she is able to understand the medical problem and the risks and benefits to the treatment options.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): Life saving technique composed of chest compression and artificial ventilation or breathing when a person’s heart or breathing has stopped. Electric shock and various medications are also used to try to restart the heart.

Do-Not-Intubate (DNI): A written order by the physician at the request of a person or his or her family to instruct healthcare personnel to not place an endotracheal tube down the patient’s trachea or windpipe to assist with breathing. This order must by signed by a physician for it be valid.

Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR): A written order by the physician at the request of a person or his or her family to instruct healthcare personnel to not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should the person’s heart or breathing stop. This order must by signed by a physician for it be valid.

Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare: Also known as Healthcare Agent or “proxy.” A document that identifies the person whom you have named to make healthcare decision for you when you cannot make those decisions yourself. This should be a person that you trust and have had many conversations about your healthcare wishes.

Hospice: Care for the terminally ill in their last 6 months of life. The goal of hospice is not to cure the patient from their disease, but to provide comfort care to them in their last days.

Incapacity: Often determined by a physician that the person does not have medical decision making-capacity due to the inability to understand the medical problem or the risks and benefits to the treatment options. This is used to activate a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.

Intubation: The insertion of an endotracheal tube through the mouth or nose into the trachea or windpipe to maintain a patent airway so the patient can breathe. Most of the time the patient is placed on mechanical ventilation to breath for the patient.

Mechanical ventilation: Also called a “breathing machine,” a ventilator does the breathing work for the patient by forcing air into the patient’s lungs through an endotracheal tube. This is used when either the person cannot breath on their own or their own breathing is not effective enough to sustain life.

Palliative Care: The goal of care is to provide the patient with the best quality of life for the patient by minimizing suffering and pain. The focus is on the physical, psychological and spiritual needs of the patient. The patient does not have to be in hospice or terminally ill.

Power of Attorney: A legal document giving authority to another individual to act on his or her behalf in private affairs, business, legal and financial matters.

Respiratory arrest: When a person stops breathing. If breathing is not restored, the person’s heart will also stop.

Withdrawing Treatment: Discontinuing life-sustaining treatment(s). Usually occurs when the treatment is no long effective or when the treatment’s harm is greater than its benefit.