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Glossary

Learning more about advance directives

This glossary outlines some of the terms you may encounter while completing your advance directive. We hope that by providing this information, you will be able to make informed decisions regarding the direction of your treatment.

  • Advance directive: A document in which you are able to state your choices for medical treatment or designate an individual who should make treatment choices if you should lose the ability to make decisions. With this document, you can ensure your wishes are honored in a legally detailed way.

  • Artificial nutrition and hydration: A procedure that delivers a mix of nutrients and fluids when you are unable to eat or drink. This is done through intravenous (IV) lines and feeding tubes, and is not a natural process of eating food or drinking liquid.

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR): A medical procedure that involves chest compressions, medicines and electric shock to restart your heart if it stops beating.

  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order: A medical order preventing doctors and nurses from performing CPR if your heart stops beating (cardiac arrest) or if you stop breathing (respiratory arrest).

  • Health care agent: A person named in a health care power of attorney to make healthcare decisions for you if you ever lose the ability to make or communicate your own decisions.

  • Health Care Power of Attorney: A specific type of advance directive that allows you to select someone else to make medical decisions for you if you become temporarily or even permanently unable to make those decisions yourself.

  • Hospice care: Supportive care that focuses on comfort, pain reduction and quality of life, rather than treating or finding a cure for an illness. Hospice care can be provided at home, in a freestanding facility, in a nursing home or at a hospital.

  • Life-prolonging measures: Any of several medical procedures or interventions that serve only to postpone artificially the moment of death by sustaining, restoring or supplanting a vital function. Some of these interventions may include use of a ventilator (breathing machine), kidney dialysis, antibiotics, tube feeding and similar forms of treatment.

  • Living Will: A legal document that explains the patient’s wishes to receive or not to receive life-prolonging treatment. A living will only is effective if the patient has terminal illness, advanced dementia or is in a persistent vegetative state. It is used when the patient is unable to make or communicate his or her own health care decisions.

  • Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment (MOST): A medical order used near the end of life. The MOST form details the patient’s wishes about CPR, levels of care for other medical interventions, antibiotics and artificial nutrition and hydration. It is signed by the patient and the doctor. MOST is a portable medical order that can be honored by any provider in any care setting, including by emergency medical providers who may be called to the home. The MOST form is used in North Carolina.

  • Palliative care: Specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. This type of care is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of serious illness – whatever the diagnosis.

  • Persistent vegetative state: A permanent coma or state of unconsciousness caused by injury, disease or illness. Someone in a persistent vegetative state is not aware of his or her surroundings, and is not expected to recover.

  • Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (POST): A physician’s order used near the end of life. The POST form details the patient’s wishes about CPR, levels of care for other medical interventions, antibiotics and artificial nutrition and hydration. It is signed by the patient and the doctor. POST is a portable medical order that can be honored by any provider in any care setting, including by emergency medical providers who may be called to the home. POST forms are used in many states and currently are being piloted in South Carolina and Virginia.

  • Terminal condition: An incurable condition in which death will occur within a short time (in general, considered less than one year) and medical treatment will only prolong the dying process.