DEFINING COMMON TERMS
(from the Canadian Cancer Society)
Advance Health Care Directive
An advanced directive is a legal document prepared and signed by a person in advance of a severe illness or injury, which will guide health care providers when providing health care and treatment. It may give instructions -- i.e., state what treatment or care someone wants to receive or not receive if he or she becomes unable to make medical decisions (for example, because he/she is unconscious or in a coma). A health care directive is also used to plan in advance for situations where a person is no longer mentally capable of making her or his own health care decisions. Some advance directives will identify a person (a proxy) who would be responsible for making treatment decisions on behalf of the person if she or he becomes mentally incapable.
A living will is a set of instructions about a person’s wishes for medical care. If you become unable to communicate or make decisions, a living will tells caregivers and the healthcare team your wishes about medical care issues such as: use of breathing machines (ventilators), use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if breathing or heartbeat stops, artificial feeding, such as tube feeding, instruction for treatments, such as antibiotics, pain or antinausea medicines, continuing or not continuing with treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, organ, tissue or body donation. It’s a good idea to talk about these medical care decisions with the people who matter most to you. Once you’ve made your living will, you can carry a wallet card to say that you have one and where it can be found.
Power of Attorney
Giving someone power of attorney means that person has the legal authority to act for you if you become unable to do so. A medical power of attorney (or proxy) gives someone the authority to make medical or healthcare decisions for you. A financial power of attorney gives someone the authority to make your financial decisions. You can choose different people to have financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney or you may choose to give one person both responsibilities.
A will gives legal instruction about how you want your estate (money, property or other assets) handled when you die. It can also include who will look after your children (under age 18) or who should look after pets. In your will, you can name a family member, friend or professional who will see that the terms of the will are carried out (this person is called the executor or executrix).