Your Healthcare Decisions

The Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA) was created by the federal government in 1990 to encourage patients to be active participants, along with their physicians, in making decisions about their healthcare. Self-determination is especially important because it concerns the treatment a patient wishes to receive if they are faced with a serious or terminal illness. It is important for every American to recognize, understand, and exercise this right.

What better time than now?

We are fortunate to live in a day when medical science can greatly improve our quality of life. It can even extend our life expectancy well beyond that of past generations.

However, as a result, we are now faced with new and difficult decisions. If we are faced with a serious or terminal illness, the kind and extent of treatment we want to receive can be very important for ourselves and for our loved ones.

Talking about it.

If you are currently facing a serious illness, it is very important that you talk with your physician. Ask questions. Do not be afraid to explain your fears and concerns. The more open you are with your physician, the better he or she will be able to help you and be sensitive to your wishes.

Discuss all the “what ifs” with your loved ones. Making medical decisions for a loved one is an anguishing task. You can ease that potential burden for your family members if they understand your wishes.

You may also wish to consult with your spiritual advisor, attorney, or trusted friends. Remember, this is a situation that any of us could face at any time. People who care about you will understand and can be very helpful if you let them.

Questions you may wish to consider.

  • What rights and responsibilities do I, or members of my family have, in making choices about treatment?
  • Do I have all the information I need about the benefits and risks of my course of treatment?
  • If I were suddenly unable to make decisions for myself, who would best represent my interests?
  • At what point in the treatment of a terminal illness would I say, “Enough is enough, just keep me comfortable?”
  • What if my heart stops? Should great efforts be made to start it again? Would the answer be different if I also had a chronic or terminal illness?
  • Have I talked to my family, my physician, and others whom I trust about these issues?

What do all those medical terms mean?

See our glossary below for a few of the most commonly used terms.

Advance Directive
Any signed and witnessed statement (such as a Living Will, Appointment of a Healthcare Agent or Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare) that explains your wishes should you be unable to make decisions for yourself. Learn more about Advance Directives.

Artificial Nutrition & Hydration
Giving food and fluids to the body by means other than the mouth.

Cardiac Arrest
A sudden failure of the heart to function.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
A method to breathe for you if you cannot, and heart massage to restart the heart and lungs.

When a special medical team is called to start CPR and other life support measures when a patient has gone into cardiac or respiratory arrest.

Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR)
The decision to not have CPR, if you, your family, and your physician all agree. (DNR does not mean you will receive a lower quality of care or that other types of care will not be given to you.)

Taking out mechanical breathing tubes.

Informed Consent
The permission you give to receive tests, treatment or procedures after you have been told about all possible benefits and risks.

Intubation (Breathing Tube)
Putting a tube, usually into the air passages, to let a machine breathe for you.

Life Support Systems
When your body, or a part of it, cannot work on its own, the medical machines or other treatments used to keep it working.

Palliative Care
Medical care, but with the main goal of providing comfort and quality of life. Learn more about Palliative Care.

Respirator/Ventilator (Breathing Machines)
Types of medical machines used to assist you in breathing if your lungs stop working (respiratory failure).

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