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Deciding about treatments that prolong life

Alternative Names

Palliative care - treatments that prolong life; Palliative care - life support; End-of-life-treatments that prolong life; Ventilator - treatments that prolong life; Respirator - treatments that prolong life; Life-support - treatments that prolong life; Cancer - treatments that prolong life

Life-sustaining Treatments

Sometimes after injury or a long illness, the main organs of the body no longer work properly without support. Your health care provider may tell you that these organs will not repair themselves.

Medical care to prolong life can keep you alive when these organs stop working well. The treatments extend your life, but DO NOT cure your illness. These are called life-sustaining treatments.

Treatments to extend life can include the use of machines. This equipment does the work of the body organ, such as:

Making the Decision for Yourself

If you are near the end of your life or you have an illness that will not improve, you can choose what kind of treatment you want to receive.

You should know that the illness or the injury is the main cause of the end of life, not the removal of life support equipment.

To help with your decision:

These can be hard choices for you and those close to you. There is no hard and fast rule about what to choose. People's opinions and choices often change over time.

Making Your Wishes Known

To make sure your wishes are followed:

As your life or health changes, you may also change your health care decisions. You can change or cancel an advanced care directive at any time.

Making the Decision for a Loved one

You may serve as a health care agent or proxy for someone else. In this role you may have to make the decision to start or remove life support machines. It is a very hard decision to make.

If you need to make a decision about stopping treatment for a loved one:

References

Arnold R. Care of dying patients and their families. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 3.

Rakel RE, Trinh TH. Care of the dying patient. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 5.


Review Date: 2/6/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.