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Glossary

Advance directive:
A legal document in which a patient states his/her medical care preferences in case he/she is incapacitated. Advance directives include living wills and medical power of attorney.

Brain death:
When a patient has lost all brain functions and there is no blood flow to the brain. Patients that are brain dead can't move and don't respond to loud noise, painful touch, or temperature. The body can't breathe without a ventilator.

Comfort care:
Care that relieves pain and suffering and controls debilitating symptoms but does not prevent dying. This includes administering of pain medication, providing hygienic care, turning patients in bed, and providing emotional support to family and friends.

Do not resuscitate order (DNR):
Also called a "no code," a DNR is usually placed on a patient's medical chart to indicate there should be no attempt to restart a failed heartbeat or apply cardiopulmonary resuscitation to restore normal breathing. A DNR order can be changed and experts say it should be reviewed regularly. In a DNR situation, a patient is still provided comfort care.

Futile measures:
A general term used often in medical care to characterize interventions in seriously ill patients who are typically terminal that will have little effect on outcome or prognosis.

Heroic measures:
A term used by patients and providers to characterize a spate of medical interventions that should be applied, usually regardless of a patient's condition.

Hospice:
A noninstitutional health care alternative for terminally ill persons. Nearly all hospice care is delivered to a patient in their home. Programs are usually run by home health agencies or visiting nurse associations in consultation with a physician. Persons enrolled in hospice programs have given up on cures; rather they are looking for comfort care and support for themselves and their family from a team of nurses, social workers, home health aides, volunteers, and clergy.

Palliative care:
Associated with care delivered to persons with terminal disease. To palliate means to relieve symptoms without curing them.

Physician-assisted suicide:
When a physician medically hastens death in consultation with a terminally ill patient. Several states have attempted to legalize physician-assisted suicide; the question of whether it should be a constitutional right is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Terminal illness:
Refers to an illness or condition that is incurable and irreversible. When a person is diagnosed as terminally ill, death is expected in a relatively short period of time.

Ventilator:
A machine that helps a patient breathe. Sometimes it is used temporarily until a person can breathe on his or her own; other times it is a permanent breathing aide. In the latter case, a tube is often placed directly into a patient's windpipe via a procedure called a tracheotomy.

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