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About Life Support

Life support replaces or supports a failing body organ. In treatable or curable conditions, life support is temporary until the body can resume its normal function. Treatment may ease suffering, restore functioning or improve a patient’s quality of life.

Putting a loved one on life support is a difficult and personal decision. It is important that you talk with his or her doctor about the risks and benefits. In situations where a cure may not be possible, life support may cause suffering and pain, and this may lessen a person’s quality of life.

Commonly Used Life Support Terms

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): CPR is an attempt to restart the heart and breathing when the heart has stopped beating and a person has stopped breathing. Resuscitation typically continues until the heart is beating on its own and the patient is either breathing on their own or artificial breathing has been established.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR): After consideration by the patient or the patient’s decision maker and discussion with the doctor, a decision may be made to “do not attempt to resuscitate.” DNR is the compassionate choice that may be appropriate for some patients. Overall care of the patient continues to alleviate suffering and provide the best quality of life. Once the doctor has written a DNR order in the patient’s record, no further resuscitative efforts will be done.

Comfort Care and Hospice: There may come a point when restoring a patient to health is not possible. A “comfort care” plan, or hospice care, refocuses on goals of care for the patient so that quality of life is provided by relieving suffering, controlling pain and maintaining the patient’s dignity.

Palliative Care: The goals of palliative care are to alleviate physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering and provide patients with the best quality of life. The patient’s multidisciplinary support team may include doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, and counselors who work to relieve symptoms like pain, anxiety, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting.

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