Navigate Up

Seniors Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Deciding about treatments that prolong life

Life Sustaining Treatments

Sometimes after injury or a long illness, the primary organs of the body no longer work properly without support. Your doctor may tell you that these organs will not repair themselves.

Medical care to prolong life can keep you alive when these organs stop working well.

  • The treatments extend your life but do not cure your illness.
  • These are called life-sustaining treatments.

Treatments to extend life can include the use of machines. This equipment does the work of the body organ. Examples include:

  • A machine to help breathing (ventilator)
  • A machine to help your kidneys (dialysis)
  • A tube into your stomach to provide food (nasogastric or gastrostomy tube)
  • A tube into your vein to provide fluids and medicines (also called intravenous tube)
  • A tube or mask to supply oxygen

Making the Decision for Yourself

If you are near the end of your life or you have an illness that will not improve, you can choose what kind of treatment you want to receive.

You should know that removing the life support equipment does not end life: the illness or the injury is the cause of the end of life.

  • Talk to your health care providers to learn about life-support care you are receiving or may need in the future.
  • Learn about the treatments and how they would benefit you.
  • Learn about side effects or problems the treatments might cause.
  • Think about the quality of life you value.
  • Ask your doctor what happens if life support care is stopped or you choose not to start a treatment.
  • Find out if you will have more pain or discomfort if you stop life support care.

These can be hard choices for you and those who are close to you. There is no hard and fast rule about what you may choose. People's opinions and choices often change over time.

How to Make Your Wishes Known

Talk to your health care providers about your choices. Other steps you can take to make sure your wishes are followed are:

As your life or health changes, you may also change your health care decisions. You can change or cancel an advanced care directive at any time. 

Making the Decision for a Loved One

You may serve as a health care agent or proxy for someone else. In that role you may have to make the decision to start or remove life support machines. It is a very hard decision to make.

If you need to make a decision about stopping treatment for a loved one:

  • Talk to their doctor.
  • Review the goals of their medical care.
  • Weigh the benefits and burdens of treatments on your loved one’s health.
  • Think about your loved one’s wishes and values.
  • Seek advice from other health care professionals, such as a social worker.
  • Seek advice from your loved one’s family members.

Updated: 4/4/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com