Advance Directives and End-of-Life Care

This is the type of care that most of us think of when we hear “advance directive” or “living will” or “health care power of attorney.”  It makes sense because the earliest types of ADs were focused on end-of-life care, and the cases that we hear about in the news are usually about end-of-life care.

Planning for end-of-life care is about sharing your values and wishes about quality of life, and what treatments you do and do not want at the end of your life.  A lot of people plan for end-of-life care because it is helpful to their loved ones, too.

We explain some of the terms you might see in this part of an AD to help make clear what end-of-life care means.

What are life-prolonging treatments?

Life-prolonging treatments are treatments for a person who is in a terminal condition.  The treatments do not help the person get better.  The treatments do use machines and such to keep the body going.

Examples of life-prolonging treatments include breathing tubes, IV fluids, and tube feeding.  These treatments may be used in cases when someone will get better, too.  But when they are used for someone who will not get better, they are called “life-prolonging treatments.”

What is a terminal condition?

There are two basic types of terminal conditions.

  • A person is in a terminal condition when the person is expected to die in the near future.  For example, when someone is in the last stage of a cancer.
  • A person is in a terminal condition when the person is in a “persistent vegetative state.”  For example, when someone has a very serious brain injury and is in a permanent coma.

What about pain relief?

Pain relief at the end of life is also called “palliative care.”  The law and AD forms assume that people want pain relief even if they do not want any other treatment at the end-of-life.  But, just like any other part of an AD, you can choose to cross that out on your AD if you want.

Learning more about end-of-life care

We do not give medical information about the dying process on this website.  If you have more questions, we encourage you to talk with a medical professional or look at resources like the Hospice Foundation or the links below from the University of Michigan’s Health System website: