The process of filling out a Health Care Directive can be daunting. It often contains medical jargon that is difficult to understand. A life sustaining measure is defined as; “any medical treatment in which the primary goal is to prolong life rather than treat the underlying condition.” Essentially, when life sustaining treatment is required the patient’s body is unable to sustain proper function on its own. Below are explanations of the most common types of life sustaining measures:
- Artificial nutrition and hydration. This is utilized when a patient is not receiving the necessary nutrients for health and wellbeing. A feeding tube is placed into the stomach of small intestines for nutrition and an IV is used for hydration.
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). CPR is used when the patient’s heart beat and/or breathing is stopped. CPR includes mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, chest compressions, electric drugs, and/or drugs to restart the heart. CPR can be lifesaving but, it is not always successful and can sometimes result in broken or cracked ribs or punctured lungs.
- Mechanical ventilation. This supports a patient’s breathing when they can no longer do so on their own. It is done through a ventilator which forces air into the lungs through tubing in the mouth or nose.
- This is used when the kidneys are no longer able to adequately remove waste from the body. Dialysis artificially removes waste and excess water from the blood.
This list of life sustaining measures is not all inclusive. When filling out a Health Care Directive, it is important to consider a few important factors when deciding which life sustaining measures you would like to receive if necessary. Consider asking the following questions:
- Does the treatment relieve suffering, restore functioning or enhance quality of life?
- Could the treatment be painful?
- Would the treatment only prolong death?
- How do my personal values relate to life sustaining measures?
- Who will carry out my wishes if I become incapacitated?
- Will I wish to stop treatment if it does not improve quality of life? If so, at what point will I choose to withdraw treatment?
How you choose to fill out your Health Care Directive is completely up to you. Do not be afraid to ask questions if the terminology is confusing to you. Understanding what the Directive is asking you will allow you communicate your wishes and be sure that they are honored.