What Happens When Someone Is Taken Off Life Support?
Published July 10, 2020
The one thing we can be sure of in life is that we don’t know what’s going to happen next. But despite knowing that, life still manages to blindside us.
This is especially true when it comes to sickness and accidents. One day, your loved one could be healthy as can be. The next, you could be holding on to life by a thread.
There is unimaginable pain and worry in waiting for your loved one to get better. What’s worse is knowing you can’t do much to help the situation. But that’s not even the thick of it all.
For some of us who are even more unlucky, we have to face the harsh reality that the situation is not getting any better. It’s at this time when we are faced with a difficult decision, to continue life support or not.
Here, we try to answer some questions about life support and what happens when someone is taken off it.
Why do patients need life support?
When someone gets severe injuries from an accident or suffers a debilitating disease, it can damage his or her organs. When our organs are damaged, and their functions are compromised, many complications can arise.
The body will not be able to support itself through natural means. In these cases, it will need mechanical and medicinal help to function correctly. This is what we call “life support.”
Life support refers to several machines and medication needed to keep the body alive. This can come in the form of ventilators, feeding tubes, left ventricular assist devices, and many more.
Often, patients will recover from their condition and will not require life support entirely. Others will need it for their entire lives. It’s not uncommon for people to have portable ventilators and live a regular life.
But for some, their conditions never get better. Prolonging life support might be delaying the inevitable or worse, prolonging their suffering. It is at this point that removing life support might be the most humane thing you can do for them.
What happens to the patient when they take off life support?
In some situations, no amount of life support will help the patient return back to normal. In these cases, organ failure and the patient’s condition have no chance of recovery that doctors would advise the patient’s family to pull the plug.
When immediate family or legal guardians ultimately decide to remove life support, there’s a process that follows.
First, the doctors and nurses remove all devices, monitors, and devices attached to the patient. Doing this would trigger some reactions on the patient that make it look like they’re coming out of their coma, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Next, the doctors invite the family back in to spend their final moments with the patient. Depending on the time it takes for the patient to pass away, their skin could start turning blue. After some time, it’s not uncommon for the body to have convulsions due to a lack of oxygen.
After the patient appears to have passed away, the doctors confirm whether the patient still has a heartbeat or not.
If the patient is pronounced dead, the doctor tells the family to say their last goodbyes. Then, the nurses and doctors prepare the body to be taken to the morgue.
What you can do
I mentioned earlier that there’s not much you can do to tip the scales in your favor, but you can do little things.
- Hold your loved one’s hand and speak softly to them. Your loved one may be unresponsive, but many times they can actually hear what you’re saying.
- Share news, memories, and other beautiful things to the person. Doing this could help lighten their mood and ease their pain.
- Play them some of their favorite music.
I know that this situation can be very emotionally burdening on people. When it comes to deciding the fate of your loved one, it gets even more burdening. But you have to remember that you are not personally responsible for their death.
The decision to ultimately take off life support is not what killed your loved one, but rather it is the underlying condition they had. If it ever reaches that point, you and the doctors did everything you could do. I hope this was able to provide you even with the least bit of comfort.
About The Author
Terrence Tan Ting is an industrial engineer by profession but a full time writer by passion. He loves to write about a wide range of topics from many different industries thanks to his undying curiosity.