By learning more about medical terms and treatments, and legal requirements, you can make better decisions about your plan. Here are some common medical and legal terms that are important to know:
Allow natural death means 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, and you would still receive treatments to keep you comfortable (e.g. pain medication, oxygen, etc.)
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a medical procedure used to restart your 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. CPR can be useful in some situations, but not in all situations.
Comfort measures are treatments to keep you comfortable (for example, pain relievers, psychological support, physical care, oxygen, etc.) but not to keep you artificially alive or cure any illness.
Dialysis is a medical procedure that cleans your blood when your kidneys can no longer do so.
End-of-life care is health care provided at the end of a person’s life. This type of care focuses on you living the way you choose during your last days or weeks.
A feeding tube is a way to feed someone who can no longer swallow food.
Hospice Palliative Care is care that aims to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life. In Canada, both hospice care and palliative care are used to refer to the same thing – this specific approach to care. However, some people use hospice care to describe care that is offered in the community rather than in hospitals.
Hospice palliative care strives to help patients and families: address physical, psychological, social, spiritual and practical issues, and their associated expectations, needs, hopes and fear; prepare for and manage self-determined life closure and the dying process; and cope with loss and grief during the illness and bereavement.
An intravenous (IV) is a way to give you ﬂuids or medicine through a vein in your hand or another part of your body.
Life support can mean medical or surgical procedures such as a feeding tube, breathing machines, kidney dialysis or CPR. All of these use artiﬁcial means to restore and/or continue life. Without them, you would die.
Organ Donation is the process of surgically removing an organ or tissue from one person (the organ donor) and placing it into another person (the recipient).
Transplantation is necessary because the recipient’s organ has failed or has been damaged by disease or injury. Make sure your family knows if you wish to be an organ and tissue donor. Even if you have registered as a donor, health professionals still need to ask your family for consent before recovering organs or tissue. Donation can take place only if your family consents at the time of death.
Palliative Care is care that is focused on keeping you comfortable and free of pain, and may include medicine, treatments, physical care, psychological/social services and spiritual support, both for you and for those who are helping to care for you.
Power of Attorney for Property / Power of Attorney for Personal Care are terms for duments where you can legally name or appoint people to act or speak on your behalf. These are witnessed documents and there may be other names they are known by in your province (e.g enduring power of attorney, mandates for incapacity, personal directives)
Residential Hospice is a home-like environment where adults and children with life-threatening illnesses receive end-of-life care services.
A Substitute Decision Maker is a person who makes medical decisions for someone else when they cannot make decisions for themself. This person might also be known as a medical proxy, a health representative or agent or a Power of Attorney for Personal Care.
Symptoms are signs that you are unwell – for example, pain, vomiting, loss of appetite, or high fever.
A 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.
What medical care always provides:
When you are in pain or experiencing unpleasant symptoms (such as feeling dizzy or sick), health care providers will always give you medicine and treatments to relieve your symptoms.
If you reach the point where you no longer want care that prolongs your life, medical treatment and nursing care will always be given to keep you comfortable. For example, you may receive:
- Surgery to control pain
- Pain-relieving medicine
- Medication or treatments to help with breathing