Handbook for Mortals : Planning Ahead : Definitions in Advance Care Planning

Before talking to a health care provider or attorney about advance care plans, it helps to define the basic terms. Here are the most commonly used.

Advance Care Planning:

Determining and documenting your goals and wishes for specific treatments based on your medical condition and personal preferences. Clinical care is shaped by your choices, even if you become unable to make decisions for yourself. By anticipating emergencies, crisis decision-making is decreased.

Advance Directive:

Any statement made by a competent individual about preferences for future treatment if that person is unable to make decisions at the time. "Advance directive" is often used to describe the two forms which most states recognize as legally important - the living will and the health care proxy (or durable power of attorney).

Forgoing Life-Sustaining Treatment:

Choosing not to have specific treatments that would have been expected to extend your life. This can be done by withholding one or more treatments, which is a choice not to start the life-sustaining treatment. It can also be done by withdrawing a treatment once it is started.

Health Care Proxy:

A method of giving another person legal power to make medical decisions when you no longer can. The written form used to appoint the proxy is often called a "durable power of attorney" for health care decision-making.

Last Will and Testament:

Legal document to determine what will be done with your money, property, and other possessions after you die. If you do not write a "will," the laws of the state will determine how your wealth is passed along to family members.

Living Will:

A document that indicates an individual's written instructions for treatment to be used when that individual becomes unable to express his or her wishes for health care treatment. Often it’s a preprinted form.

Physician-Assisted Suicide:

A sequence of events in which a physician hastens a patient's death by providing the necessary means (drugs) or information to enable someone to take his or her own life.

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Keywords: Advance care planning

Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission.
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