Questions & Answers: Advance Directives and End of Life Decisions
Medical Treatments and Your Advance Directives What are life-sustaining treatments?
Life-sustaining treatments are medical procedures that replace or support a
failing essential bodily function (one that is necessary to keep you alive).
For example, a ventilator (respirator) supports the breathing process; dialysis
cleans the blood in case of kidney failure. They are also sometimes called
life-support or life-prolonging treatments.
Why would I not want life-sustaining treatments?
If a good chance exists that a life-sustaining treatment will improve your
condition (e.g., temporary use of a ventilator to support breathing until you
are able to breathe on your own), you might accept the treatment.
However, if your condition is complicated by many problems (e.g., serious
brain damage, kidney failure) and continues to deteriorate with no likelihood
of recovery, you might not want life-sustaining treatment.
Furthermore, if treatments sustain life but do not provide the quality of
life or dignity you wish to maintain (e.g., your condition is irreversible and
you are completely dependent on others for all aspects of care,), you might not
want life sustained under these conditions. On the other hand, because of
personal or religious views you might want treatments continued as long as
Medical decision-making often requires weighing the benefits of continued
treatment against its burdens. By letting others know when, in your view,
continued treatment would no longer be a benefit to you, you provide guidance
to those who may at some time be called upon to make difficult decisions for
you. When a person can no longer participate in these decisions, advance
directives may offer the only guide to weighing the burdens and benefits of
Note: In making decisions about treatment, patients or their agents
need to know the diagnosis (the exact nature of a person's medical condition)
and prognosis (what is likely to happen because of that medical condition). The
patient or the designated agent has a right to this information, and needs the
information to make decisions properly. If physicians cannot provide an answer
right away, find out when they will know more.
How can I learn more about the benefits and burdens of different medical treatments?
First, you should talk with your doctor. If you have a chronic or serious
medical condition, your doctor should be able to tell you about treatments that
might be especially relevant to your condition.