Last Updated: October 23, 2020

By learning more about common end of life terms and procedures, you can develop an advance care plan that truly reflects your wishes.

You may wish to include some of these terms in your advance care plan:

Allow natural death refers to decisions NOT to have any treatment or procedure that will delay the moment of death. It applies only when death is about to happen from natural causes.

Advance care planning is a process of reflection and communication, a time for you to reflect on your values and wishes, and to let others know your future health and personal care preferences in the event that you become incapable of consenting to or refusing treatment or other care. Advance care planning means having discussions with family and friends, especially your Substitute Decision Maker, the person who will speak for you when you cannot. It may also include writing down your wishes, and may even involve talking with healthcare providers and financial and legal professionals.

This is a verbal or written summary of a capable adult’s wishes or instructions about the kind of care they want or do not want in the event that they cannot speak for themselves. An advance care plan can be written down or simply told to someone who is authorized to speak for the patient, such as a Substitute Decision Maker. It can guide a substitute decision maker if that person is asked by a health care provider to make treatment decisions on behalf of the adult.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) refers to medical procedures used to restart a patient’s heart and breathing when the heart and/or lungs stop working unexpectedly. CPR can range from mouth-to-mouth breathing and pumping of the chest, to electric shocks that restart the heart and machines that breathe for the individual.

Comfort measures are treatments to keep you comfortable (e.g. pain relievers, psychological support, physical care, oxygen, etc.) but not to keep you artificially alive or cure any illnesses.

Dialysis is a medical procedure that cleans your blood when your kidneys can no longer do so.

End-of-life care refers to health care provided at the end of a person’s life. This type of care focuses on patients living the way they choose during their last weeks and on comfort care until the time of death.

A feeding tube is a way to feed someone who can no longer swallow food.

Health care provider describes a person licensed, certified, or registered in their province/territory to provide health care. For example: a doctor, nurse or social worker.

Informed consent refers to the permission patients give to health care providers that allows medical investigations and/or treatments. Health care providers give detailed explanations of the investigations/treatments and their risks before you give verbal consent or sign the consent form.

An intravenous (IV) is a way to give a person fluids or medicine, i.e. through a vein in your hand.

Life support with medical interventions refers to medical or surgical procedures such as tube feeding, breathing machines, kidney dialysis, some medications, and CPR. All of these use artificial means to restore and/or continue life. Without them, the patient would die.

Care provided for people who have a life-limiting illness that focuses on providing good quality of life, in other words, keeping the patient as comfortable and free of pain as possible. Palliative care may involve medicines, treatments, physical care, psychological/social services and spiritual support, both for the patient and for those who are helping to care for them.

These terms usually indicate someone who is legally appointed to speak on your behalf. Typically, you would have a witnessed document naming your Power of Attorney / Power of Personal Care and outlining their responsibilities. Terms and responsibilities differ across the provinces/territories – check out the information specific to where you live.

If you are incapacitated and have not designated a Substitute Decision Maker or if family members disagree about your care, a provincial or territorial Public Guardian or Trustee may be assigned to make decisions about your care.

A person who makes medical decisions and provides consent for treatment or withdrawal of treatment on behalf of another person when they are incapable of communicating their wishes on their own. This person might also be known as a medical proxy, a health representative or agent or a Power of Attorney for Personal Care.Terms differ across the provinces/territories – check out the information specific to where you live.

Symptoms are signs that you are unwell. For example: pain, vomiting, loss of appetite, or high fever.

Terminal illness means an incurable medical condition caused by injury or disease. These are conditions that, even with life support, would end in death within weeks or months. If life support is used, the dying process takes longer.

A ventilator is a machine that helps people breathe when they cannot breathe on their own.