Glossary

Advance directives – Directions given by a competent individual concerning what and/or how and/or by whom decisions should be made in the event that, at some time in the future, the individual becomes incompetent to make health care decisions.  An example is a woman who has signed a document that states that, should she fall into a persistent vegetative state and then get pneumonia, she does not wish to receive antibiotics.  Or, as another example, a man who has signed a document that states that, when he is incompetent, he wishes his wife to make all health care decisions on his behalf.  There are two kinds of advance directives: “instruction directives” and “proxy directives.”

Assisted suicide – The act of intentionally killing oneself with the assistance of another who provides the knowledge, means, or both.

Common law – Law developed over the years by judges when making decisions in court.  These decisions are relied upon by other judges in making decisions in later cases.  This is to be distinguished from acts and regulations.

Competent – Capable of understanding and appreciating the relevant information as well as the nature and consequences of the decision to be made.

Euthanasia – A deliberate act undertaken by one person with the intention of ending the life of another person to relieve that person’s suffering where that act is the cause of death.

Guardian – An individual with the right and duty of protecting the person, property, or rights of someone who is not mentally capable or is otherwise unable to manage his or her own affairs.

Incompetent – The characteristic of a person which renders them incapable of understanding and appreciating the relevant information as well as the nature and consequences of the decision to be made.

Informed consent – The consent of a patient or a patient’s substitute decision-maker after being fully informed by the health care provider of the treatment options for the condition including known effects, material risks, discomforts, and side-effects of different methods of treatment and the likelihood of their occurrence; success and failure rates of different methods of treatment; alternative goals of treatment, and reasonably accessible alternative treatment means of pursing such goals; and the prognosis if the patient remains untreated.

Injunction – A court order for the purpose of requiring a party to refrain from doing a particular act or thing.  A preventive measure, an injunction guards against future injuries rather than affording a remedy for past injuries.

Instruction directive – An advance directive that establishes what decisions are to be made on behalf of an incompetent individual.

Legislation – Law made by elected members of government, also referred to as “statute” or “Act.”

Mature minor – A person below the legal age of majority (usually 18 or 19) who is competent and sufficiently independent.

Official guardian – A government office that may be appointed to, among other matters, act as guardian of an adult who is found unable to manage his or her own affairs.  Also referred to as “public trustee” in some jurisdictions or “curator” in Quebec.

Palliative care – Care aimed at alleviating suffering—physical, emotional, psychosocial, or spiritual—rather than curing.  It is concerned with the comfort of the suffering individual.

Palliative interventions – Palliative interventions aim to relieve suffering and improve quality of life for those who are living with or dying from an illness.

Palliative sedation – The practice of combining deep and continuous sedation with the withholding or withdrawal of artificial hydration and nutrition.

Parens patriae – Literally “parent of the country,” parens patriae is the authority of the court to act on behalf of those people perceived to be unable to manage their own affairs.

Proxy – A person appointed to make health care decisions on behalf of someone else.  One kind of “substitute decision-maker.”

Proxy directive – An advance directive that establishes who is to make decisions on behalf of an incompetent individual.

Public trustee – A government office that may be appointed to, among other matters, act as guardian of an adult who is found unable to manage his or her own affairs.  Also referred to as “official guardian” in some jurisdictions or “curator” in Quebec.

Reciprocity protocol – A system by which a province or territory recognizes legal documents made in other provinces and territories.

Substitute decision-maker – A person appointed to make health care decisions on behalf of someone else.  A substitute decision-maker can be appointed by statute or by an advance directive.

Statute – Law made by elected members of government, also referred to as “legislation” or “Act.”

Unilateral – Without the knowledge or against the wishes of a patient or patient’s substitute decision-maker.

Voluntary stopping of eating and drinking (VSED) — Voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, by a competent person, with the purpose of hastening death.

Withholding of potentially life-sustaining treatment – Not starting treatment that has the potential to sustain the life of a patient.

Withdrawal of potentially life-sustaining treatment – Stopping treatment that has the potential to sustain the life of a patient.

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