Glossary of Terms: End of Life



Advance Care Plan

An advance care plan, no matter how specific, is an expression of a person’s wishes, values and beliefs, and these wishes, values and beliefs must be contextualized by a discussion with healthcare providers (about the disease, the prognosis, the treatment options, etc.), and they cannot replace informed consent regarding healthcare decisions, which must be sought by healthcare providers from a capable patient or the SDM if that patient is incapable. An advance care plan provides direction to a SDM, not the healthcare providers (with the exception of an emergency), in order to help the SDM feel confident in making future decisions if the patient becomes incapable. Completing an advance care plan is always voluntary and can take many valid forms in Ontario.

Judith Wahl – Advocacy Centre for the Elderly

Advance Care Planning

Refers to the communication process where people plan for the time when they become incapable of consenting to or refusing treatment and care. It includes the deliberation and communication of wishes, values and beliefs between the individual, their loved ones, their substitute decision maker and their health care provider(s) about end of life care. Adults can engage in advance care planning with their families, friends, health care providers and substitute decision makers at any stage of their lives.

McMaster Health Forum (2013), A Guide to Advance Care Planning, ON (2006)

Advance Directives

Communication by a person about their wishes about medical care, and their values and beliefs. Term not defined in Ontario law. Wishes, values and beliefs may be expressed orally or communicated by other means. Even if wishes are written, later capable wishes expressed in any form will trump earlier wishes. If the patient is not mentally capable to make their own health care decisions, their substitute decision-maker (SDM) is required to make decisions on behalf of the patient by following the wishes of the patient expressed in any form, whether in writing or oral or communicated by other means. The SDM must determine if the wishes in any directive were communicated by the patient when he or she was mentally capable, whether the wishes are applicable to the health decision that needs to be made and whether the patient still has those same wishes and has not changed them. If the directive , whether in writing or oral or communicated by another means , does not contain wishes applicable to the decision the SDM now must make, then the SDM must decide what is in the best interests of the patient , using the directive as a guide. In an emergency, when it is not possible to talk with the patient or the SDM to get direction, physicians will refer to the advance directives, whether written or oral and act accordingly. The advance directive however expressed is not consent and physicians must still get consent before treatment from the patient or the SDM even if the patient has a written advance directive.

A Guide to Advance Care Planning, ON (2006), Judith Wahl – Advocacy Centre for the Elderly

Allow-Natural Death (AND)

It applies only when death is about to happen. Refers to decisions not to have any treatment or procedure that will delay the moment of death and comfort measures are taken.

It’s OK to Die (2013)

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Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

Refers to a procedure that is used to attempt to restart someone’s heart and breathing. CPR can be mouth to mouth breathing with chest compressions, or it can include electric shocks and machines that breathe for the patient.

It’s OK to Die (2013)

Certification of Death (Medical Certificate of Death)

A signed document provided to the government stating the cause of death. Certification of death can only be done by a physician or nurse practitioner. The death certificate must be completed within 48hrs of the death of an individual.

Vital Statistic Act (1990), CPSO Dialogue (2013)

Comfort Measures

Any action taken to relieve pain or discomfort physically and psychosocially.

It’s OK to Die (2013)

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Decision Making Capacity

Decision-making capacity in Ontario requires that:

  • the patient be informed of his or her condition, prognosis, proposed treatments and alternatives; and
  • the patient understands the risks and potential benefits of each alternative and the consequences of choosing a particular alternative

A physician must determine that a patient is capable of giving consent and must obtain consent from a patient before providing treatment. A physician is entitled to assume that a patient is capable of giving consent unless there are reasonable grounds to believe otherwise.

Royal College (2013), College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (2013), Health Care Consent Act (1996)

Do-Not Resuscitate (DNR)

Refers to a written medical order that documents a patient’s decision regarding his/her desire to avoid cardiopulmonary resuscitation. DNR should not be mistaken as do not treat; it is specific only to CPR.

It’s OK to Die (2013)

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End of Life Care

To assist persons who are facing imminent or distant death (including advanced life-limiting chronic conditions) to have the best quality of life possible until the end of their life regardless of their medical diagnosis, health condition or age. It supports the needs of patients, families and caregivers until the last phase of life and into grief and bereavement. It includes the management of pain and other symptoms and provision of psychological, social, spiritual and practical support. End of Life Care should include discussions about advance care planning, treatment plans/goals of care, consent and related decisions.

McMaster Health Forum (2013), Nursing Ethics (2012), Cancer Care Ontario Lexicon (2013)


Knowingly and intentionally performing an act that is explicitly intended to end another person’s life and that includes the following elements: the subject has an intractable illnesses; the agent knows about the person’s condition; commits the act with the primary intention of ending the life of that person; and the act is undertaken with empathy and compassion and without personal gain.

CMA (2007), NHS Choices (2012)

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In Canada, it refers to both residential end of life care for patients and a range of community- based support services. Hospices have a large volunteer component as many volunteers provide assistance and time to help run and maintain it. In Ontario, residential hospice care is usually provided in a free standing house or facility with a small number of beds. The discharge rates from hospices back to the community are very small as most patients are admitted in their last days and weeks of life.

Cancer Care Ontario (2013), Palliative Care Australia (2008)

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Informed Consent

A person has the right to consent or refuse treatment, admission to a healthcare facility or personal assistance services, if they have the mental capacity to do so. The person must have the capacity to understand and appreciate the consequences of a healthcare decision. Healthcare providers in Ontario cannot interpret and follow a patient’s advance directive or advance care plan directly. They must get informed consent from the patient or substitute decision maker if the patient is mentally incapable. Physicians may rely on advance directives/advance care plan as evidence of prior capable wishes in an emergency situation if no substitute decision-maker can be contacted in time.

McMaster Health Forum (2013), Heath Care Consent Act (1996)

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Palliative Approach

A palliative approach recognizes that, although not all people with serious illness require specialized palliative care services, they do require care that is aimed at improving their quality of life, by preventing and relieving suffering through early identification, assessment and treatment of physical, psychosocial and spiritual concerns. A palliative approach can be provided by general health care workers, not only palliative care specialists. Furthermore, a palliative approach does not link the provision of care too closely with prognosis but focuses on having conversations with patients/families in the care of any sick person regardless of their illness.

Dr. Daren K. Heyland

Palliative Care

Historically, care provided in the last weeks or months of life to manage symptoms and provide comfort. Now, interdisciplinary care that focuses on relief of pain and other symptoms including the physical, psychological, social and spiritual varieties. It supports the best possible quality of life for patients with serious illness and their families. It is appropriate at the point of diagnosis of a serious illness and creates a positive experience to replace suffering and pain in order to provide dignity at the end of life. Palliative care is appropriate even when patients are pursuing cure focused medicine; it affirms life and regards dying as a normal process.

WHO (2013), Palliative Care Australia (2008), McMaster Health Forum (2013)

Palliative Sedation

Refers to the practice of relieving intolerable suffering through the intentional lowering of a patient’s level of consciousness in the last days of life by the proportional and monitored use of opioids/sedative medications. It is a very specific type of intervention only to be used when the patient cannot get relief any other way. Palliative sedation does not prolong or hasten death but addresses intolerable suffering. It is not the same as euthanasia.

Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (2013)

Physician Assisted Suicide

A physician knowingly and intentionally providing a person with the knowledge or means or both to commit suicide, including counselling about lethal doses of drugs, prescribing such lethal doses or supplying the drugs.

CMA (2007)

Power of Attorney for Personal Care (POAPC)

A legal document in Ontario in which a person (the grantor) names a substitute decision-maker (an attorney) to make personal care decisions. May include wishes about personal care, may also include a description of personal values and beliefs to guide the substitute decision-maker (SDM) in decision making; Personal care includes decisions about health care, nutrition, hygiene, shelter, safety and clothing.

Community Legal Education Ontario (2013)

Pronouncement of Death

Is the determination that, based on a physical assessment, life has ceased. Allows the person to be moved to a local funeral home.

Vital Statistic Act (1990), CPSO Dialogue (2013)

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Substitute Decision-Maker

Someone who makes decisions on behalf of the patient if they become incapable of making them. The patient can choose to appoint anyone who is willing and able to act on their behalf and make decisions in the best interest of the patient to be their substitute decision-maker except: someone who is paid to provide personal care, someone who is mentally incapable or someone who is under 16. If the patient, while capable did not appoint a substitute decision-maker for personal care, the law provides a list of people who can act as the substitute decision-maker. The list below is in order of legal priority in Ontario:

  1. A guardian of the person with the authority to give or refuse consent to treatment
  2. An attorney for personal care with the authority to give or refuse consent to treatment
  3. A representative appointed by the Consent and Capacity Board
  4. A **spouse or partner
  5. A child or parent or Children’s Aid Society
  6. A parent who has only a right to access
  7. A brother or sister
  8. Any other relative (related by blood, marriage or adoption)
  9. The Public Guardian and Trustee is the decision maker of last resort if no other person is capable, available or willing to give or refuse consent

**Spouse/partner – either member of a cohabiting pair in relation to the other; one’s husband or wife, common law

Healthcare Consent Act (1996), A Guide to Advance Care Planning, ON (2006)

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Treatment Plan (Goals of Care/Care Plan)

Allows a patient or substitute decision maker to consent or refuse to a range of treatment and personal care decisions in the context of a particular health care situation and its reasonably likely course. Elements of this decision-making encounter include:

  • Understanding of the illness including trajectory and prognosis, and potential outcomes of treatment options (including quality of life) from the perspectives of the patient, the family (including the SDM), and the healthcare team
  • Expression of the person’s values and what has meaning for him/her, and the goals of care identified in the current context of care
  • Fears the person may have, including concerns about the disease trajectory and, ultimately, the dying process
  • Disease and/or symptom thresholds which may inform when to change goals of care
  • Understanding how the person and/or their SDM prefer to make decisions (their desired role)
  • Recommendations by healthcare team members regarding the potential benefit and harm of life-sustaining treatments given the patient’s clinical situation and their values and wishes for care
  • Ensuring that medical decisions regarding care are clinically indicated, made and aligned with the patient’s goals for their care, and adequately translated into care plans and medical orders
  • Obtaining consent to provide treatment or to withhold treatment (should include discussions on resuscitative measures, options for care without resuscitative measures, and care focused on comfort and support for the family)

Definitions and an Organizing Framework for Improving EOL Communications and Decision-making in Canada (2013), McMaster Health Forum (2013)

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End of Life Planning & Care

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