End of Life Glossary

Advance care planning

A process that enables individuals to make plans about their future health care.

Advance directive

A legal document in which a person specifies what actions should be taken for their health if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves because of illness or incapacity.

Health care proxy

A document which allows a person to designate someone to make health care decisions for them if they cannot make them for themselves. Also can mean the person who is designated to make the decisions.

Health care agent

The person who is designated to make a person’s health care decisions if they can not make them themselves.


In some states this can mean health care agent, but in New York this means a person who is named by law to make medical decisions for someone else (rather than being appointed by the person themselves).

Power of attorney

A document that gives legal authority to another to make property, financial and other legal decisions. In some states “medical power of attorney” is used to refer to a health care proxy. However, in New York a power of attorney cannot apply to medical decisions.

Living will

An advance directive listing the specific treatments a person would or would not want under various circumstances.

Five Wishes

An advance directive created by the nonprofit organization Aging With Dignity that includes wishes for emotional and spiritual care in addition to medical care.

Halachic living will

An advance directive that ensures that end of life decisions will be made in accordance with Jewish law and customs.

Ethical will

A document used to pass on to future generations a person’s values, memories, life lessons, advice, and hopes for the future. It is not a legal document.


An advance directive that instructs medical personnel not to revive a person if their heart stops beating or they stop breathing. In New York, a specific form must be used when the patient is not in a hospital. In a hospital, there is no state-mandated form and sometimes the DNR is just an instruction written in a patient’s chart.


A doctor’s order that defines what treatments a person should or should not receive if they are unable to communicate. In other states it may be called POLST, MOST, or POST. More on directives here.

Palliative care

Treatment to prevent or relieve pain and suffering and to improve a patient's quality of life, both physically and emotionally.


A facility or program that provides palliative care to people who are terminally ill. Most hospice care is provided at home. There are also some hospices that are residential and hospice care can be provided to patients in nursing homes and hospitals.

Palliative sedation

Relieving suffering in a patient by sedating them, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness.


Voluntarily stopping eating and drinking in order to hasten one’s death.

Medical Aid in Dying

The process by which a terminally ill, mentally competent adult obtains a prescription from a doctor that they can self-administer, if they choose to do so, in order to achieve a peaceful death. It is legal in the United States in nine states and the District of Columbia.


An emergency procedure used to revive people if their heart has stopped beating or they aren’t breathing.

Artificial nutrition and hydration

Providing food and fluids to patients when they are unable to eat, usually via a feeding tube or intravenously.