Care at the end of life: Understanding the terms PDF Print E-mail

Elderly couple holding handsAt the end of life an individual facing their own imminent death or that of a loved one is often faced with a confusing array of decisions for which they and their family are unprepared. What can we do now to prepare for the end of our own lives and to be of help to others facing death and dying?

One simple way to prepare is to learn the terms used by medical providers. PPL offers some definitions as a beginning along with links to additional resources for learning more.

Palliative Care

Palliative Care is a comprehensive approach to treating serious illness that focuses on the physical, psychological, spiritual, and existential needs of the patient. Its goal is to achieve the best quality of life available to the patient by relieving suffering, and controlling pain and symptoms.


Hospice provides compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness or injury, hospice involves a team-oriented approach to expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to the person's needs and wishes. Support is provided to the person's loved ones as well.

Artificial Nutrition

Artificial nutrition is medical treatment that allows a person to receive nutrition (food) when they are no longer able to take enough by mouth to sustain life or health. (Perhaps a better term is "Artificially Administered Nutrition").

Artificial Hydration

Artificial hydration is medical treatment that allows a person to receive hydration (fluids) when they are no longer able to take them by mouth. (Perhaps a better term is "Artificially Administered Hydration").

Advance Care Planning

Advance care planning is making decisions now about the healthcare you would want if you become unable to speak for yourself

Advance Directives

Advance Directives are written legal instructions about the kinds of treatment you would or would not want and who should speak for you should you be unable to speak for yourself.


HIPAA - is a federal law that gives you rights over your health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information (see summary).

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) – a group of procedures used when your heart (cardiac arrest) or breathing (respiratory arrest) stops. Treatment may include chest compressions, electrical stimulation or medication to restore the heart's function and insertion of a tube through mouth or nose into the trachea (wind pipe) and connected to a mechanical ventilator to support or restore breathing.

Do Not Resuscitate Order

Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) – a written physician's order (at the request of patient, patient's family or health care agent) that prevents health team from initiating CPR.

Do Not Intubate Order

A "Do Not Intubate" (DNI) order prevents insertion of a tube into nose or mouth to help you breathe under mechanical ventilation. It does not prevent other forms of resuscitation.

Life Sustaining Treatments

Life Sustaining Treatments are specific medical procedures that support the body to keep a person alive when the body is not able to function on its own.

For a more comprehensive glossary

Related Resources
"A Christian Guide to End-of-Life Decisions"
The Feeding Tube Dilemma: Key Questions
 (on decisions to use or not use feeding tubes)



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