Recent studies of patient/family satisfaction with end-of-life care suggest that improvements in communication and decision making are likely to have the greatest impact on improving the quality of end-of-life care. The apparent failure of recent studies specifically designed to improve decision making strongly suggest that there are powerful determinants of the decision making process that are not completely understood. In this paper, we present an organizing framework that describes the decision making process and breaks it into three analytic steps: information exchange, deliberation, and making the decision. In addition, we report the results of a preliminary study of end-of-life decision making that incorporates aspects of this organizing framework. Thirty-seven seriously ill hospitalized patients were interviewed. The majority wanted to share decisional responsibility with physicians. We demonstrated the feasibility of measuring certain aspects of the decision making process in such patients. By providing and using a framework related to end-of-life decision making, we hope to better understand the complex interaction and processes between dying patients, caregivers, and physicians.