Removing Life Support

Health care provider speaking with family.A time may come when the only outcome from the therapies that prolong life is the prolonging of suffering, with no chance of meaningful recovery. At that point, you may choose to talk with the healthcare provider and ask that life support be removed. If you do, the healthcare team will keep the dying person comfortable until his or her life ends. The hospice team will also be able to provide support and symptomatic care.

Removing life support is a hard choice to make. Your decision is not the cause of your loved one’s death. The disease or injury is.

Removing the ventilator

Taking the breathing tube out relieves the discomfort it may have caused. Once off the machine, a patient may stop breathing. However, in some cases, a patient may continue to breathe on his or her own. 

Stopping food and fluids

When the feeding tube is removed, death often follows in a few days. It is not painful. Most people go into a deep sleep before dying. Withholding food can be a hard decision. But a person very near death is not going to feel hunger, and feeding them may actually increase their discomfort.

Removing IV lines

IV lines can be used to provide many things. Ask the staff if you have any questions about the type of life support that you are stopping. Without antibiotics, for instance, an infection might cause death.

How you may feel

It’s normal to feel a burden if you have to decide whether to remove life support. You may also feel guilty, sad, or afraid. Know that you have no power over death itself. You can only try to make the treatment choices your loved one would have made. Allow the medical team to help you make the decision.