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Compassionate Decision Making

It's human nature to not want to think about unpleasant things. But while the end of life may be hard for you to think about, doing so makes things much better for family and loved ones who would otherwise need to make decisions on your behalf. Maybe you have strong feelings about what you would like (and would not like) done to extend your life. Maybe you've never really thought about it. But the best time to think it through is when you're healthy and relaxed, not during a health crisis.

Modern medical technology has an incredible power to extend a person's life. This gives doctors more choices than ever before in treating someone in need. Yet, medical staff can't know how much burden you may be willing to endure when trying to extend your life. Nor can family members, no matter how closely connected they are, guess another's wishes.

Talking about the end of life is never easy. But here are some steps to make the process easier for you and your loved ones.

Have the Conversation

Talk to friends and family about your care preferences at the end of life now; do not wait for a crisis. Having the conversation can improve quality of life at the end of life and help lift the burden from those you love. When doctors believe a cure is no longer possible, decisions must be made about the use of emergency treatments to keep you alive. The artificial or mechanical methods to keep someone alive include:

  • CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)
  • ventilator use
  • artificial nutrition (tube feeding) or artificial hydration (IV fluids)

If you or your loved one requires chronic illness care, you may want to discuss your medical, emotional, spiritual and social needs with your healthcare provider. 

If you want guidance regarding your medical condition during a hospital stay at Suburban Hospital, ask your healthcare team. 

Make Your Wishes Known

If you lose the ability to make decisions for yourself, your loved ones will have to make decisions for you. An advance directive, in the form of a living will and/or durable power of attorney for health care, can ensure that we honor your wishes. A living will outlines your treatment preferences and a power of attorney is the person you assign to make decisions for you. There are also other documents that can supplement your advance directive or stand alone. You can choose which documents to create, depending on how you want decisions to be made. These documents include:

  • living will
  • durable power of attorney for health care
  • other documents discussing DNR (do not resuscitate) orders, organ and tissue donation, dialysis, and blood transfusions

Once you've completed an advance directive, tell your health care provider and close family or friends about your decisions and give them a copy of any advance directive. For more information or help in filling out these forms, please contact the Suburban Hospital Risk Management Department at 301-896-3920.

For more information, see Maryland Advance Directives

Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST)
The MOLST order form makes your treatment wishes known to health care professionals. It includes the decisions you've made regarding your treatment preferences. This form goes with you to the hospital, rehab, assisted living, and back home.

Watch this video to learn more.


  • The Conversation Project
    An effort dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care, this website includes a "starter kit" guide to help think about issues, interviews with people who have talked to parents, spouses and children about their wishes, and more.
  • Getting Your Affairs in Order
    A guide to planning (in English and Spanish) from the National Institutes of Aging, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.
  • “Five Wishes” Advance Directive
    This site features a downloadable advance directive that is legally binding in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C.
  • Palliative Care at Suburban Hospital 
    Information on palliative care at Suburban Hospital.

Maryland Resources

Further Resources