Useful Terms

To help you better communicate, we have developed a glossary of useful terms and acronyms for patients and families dealing with end-of-life care and issues.

Glossary of Terms

Actively Dying

The term used to describe when someone is likely to die within a few hours, days or a week.

Advance Care Directives

Specific instructions prepared ahead of time that detail what care the patient wants if he or she is unable to make decisions on his or her own.

Aggressive Pain Management

A component of palliative care intended to provide relief from physical suffering at the end-of-life.


A drug used to treat infections caused by bacteria and other microorganisms.


The ability of an individual to make informed choices on his or her own without the influence of others.


To be in a state of sorrow for a period of time as a result of a loss by death.


In relation to end-of-life decision-making, a patient has medical decision-making capacity if he or she has the ability to understand the medical problem and the risks and benefits of the available treatment options.


The term used to describe the quality or state of being mentally competent as determined by the court.


A profound or deep state of unconsciousness; an individual in a state of coma is alive but unable to move or respond to his or her environment.

Continuum of Care

Course of therapy during which a patient's needs for comfort care and symptom relief are managed comprehensively and seamlessly.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

A group of treatments used when someone’s heart and/or breathing stops. CPR is used in an attempt to restart the heart and breathing. It may consist only of mouth-to-mouth breathing or it can include pressing on the chest to mimic the heart’s function and cause blood to circulate. Electric shock and drugs also are used frequently to stimulate the heart.


Significant loss of intellectual abilities such as memory capacity, severe enough to interfere with social or occupational functioning.

Do Not Resuscitate / Do Not Intubate (DNR / DNI)

This is a specific physician order. Do Not Resuscitate means that in the event of cardiac arrest, no CPR or electric shock will be performed to re-start the heart. Do Not Intubate means that no breathing tube will be placed.

Double Effect

The term given to the practice of providing large doses of medication to relieve pain even if the unintended effect of such medication may be to speed up death.

End Stage

The last phase in the course of a progressive disease.


Translated literally as "good death," this term refers to the act of painlessly but deliberately causing the death of another who is suffering from an incurable, painful disease or condition.

Futile Measures

Medical care of patients in which the care will have little or no effect on the patient's outcome or prognosis.


The branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease in older people and the problems specific to aging.


In relation to cancer, a term used to describe how fast a cancer is growing.


An individual’s reaction to a loss. Grief can become complicated or “pathological” when a person is overwhelmed and resorts to unhealthy behaviors which impair daily functioning or remains in a state of grief without progressing through the mourning process.

Guardian Ad Litem

The term given to a court-appointed representative who makes decisions in a legal proceeding on behalf of a minor or an incompetent or otherwise impaired person.

Hastened death

A term that refers to speeding up the dying process.

Health Care Agent or Proxy

A person that is appointed by the patient to make healthcare decisions in the event that the patient is unable to make such choices.


A special philosophy of care designed to provide comfort to patients and their families in the patients’ last weeks, day and hours by offering comfort and dignity. While most hospice services are provided in the comfort of one’s own home, care can be provided in any environment in which a person lives including a nursing home, assisted living facility, or residential care facility.

Life-Sustaining Treatment

Treatments that replace or support an essential bodily function (may also be called life support treatments). Life-sustaining treatments include cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation, artificial nutrition and hydration, dialysis and other treatments that could continue indefinitely to keep a person alive.

Living Will

A type of advance directive in which an individual documents his or her wishes about medical treatment should he or she be at the end-of-life and unable to communicate.

Mechanical Ventilation

A medical device used to support or replace the function of the lungs.


State programs of public assistance to persons regardless of age whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for health care.

Medical Power of Attorney

A person who is designated to make healthcare decisions on behalf of someone else if he or she is unable to make such decisions.


The United States government or federal health insurance program for people over the age of 65; certain younger people with specific disabilities; or people with end-stage renal disease that requires dialysis or transplantation.


The process by which people adapt to loss.

Palliative Care

A type of care that concentrates on reducing the severity of disease symptoms rather than striving to stop, delay or reverse progression of a disease.

Persistent Vegetative State

A condition of some patients with severe brain damage who were in a coma, but are now awake. They are not aware of their surroundings and cannot perform voluntary actions.


A prediction about what will happen to a person over time based on medical facts.


In relation to cancer, a term used to describe the extent of a cancer, especially whether the disease has spread from the original site to other parts of the body.

Terminal Sedation

The term given to the practice of giving sufficient pain medication to cause a dying person who is suffering severe, intractable pain to become unconscious, i.e. to induce an artificial coma.

Withholding or Withdrawing Life-Sustaining Treatment

Deciding to do without or end the use of life-sustaining equipment such as ventilators, dialysis machines and feeding tubes.