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Life Support

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nailedit | 22:25 Sat 02nd Dec 2023 | Body & Soul
30 Answers

How long after switching off life support will a patient last before dying?

My 41 year old nephew, who ive always been very close to, has been in intensive care for a few weeks. He's spina bifida and was blue lighted to hospital with bleeding kidneys and other issues were discovered while there. he's had ganerine, a spot on his liver was discovered, he's had a trachonomony etc. Numerous scans and he's unconcious. Doctors have now informed his mum (my sister) that theres nothing left that they can do and will be switching off his life support.

Obviously we are all devestated.

I know it sounds morbid but im curious as to how quick a patient passes away after life support is withdrawn?




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Impossible to predict .

Sorry to hear his illness has come to this.

Very difficult to answer. If he is on a ventilator it will depend on what his own respiratory function/effort when the machine is disconnected. If he is being given medication it will depend on how dependant his body is for them. I have taken care of patients who have died very quickly or after a week or more after removal of support. The doctors might be able to give you some indication of how soon death will occur but there is no foolproof way of knowing.

My condolences to you and his family at this very sad time. I hope you have support in place for your own health during this time



I am dreadfully sorry for your nephew but also for you facing this now.  

It can take hours or days, but the doctors sometimes have a fair idea.

I'm very sorry to hear this Nailed it. 

It is not a morbid question.  But as Anne says, it is impossible to say.  

Wishing you strength.

And please remember in dealing with this awful situation, we are all here for you on AB to offer what support we can. x

It could be a few seconds ...

agree AA - not possible to predict.

A very experienced anaesthetic doctor may hazard a guess, but I don't think that would be fair to the family .

Question Author

Thank you for replies and thanks Chris for the link.

Experienced this many times  working in ITU,   if they are on a lot of circulatory support  e.g high doses of  adrenaline or noradrenaline it can be quite quick maybe 15-30 minutes if that is stopped at the same time,  if the respiratory centre of the brain is damaged  so they can't breathe unaided it will be minutes.  If they can breathe a bit but not enough  it can take a fair bit longer,maybe an hour or so.    The medical and nursing staff will have a pretty good idea based on what support is currently in place.  

But the important thing is be with the person not the monitor..... We used to dim them so the families didn't sit there staring at a screen waiting for a flat line. ( nurses watched the master screen at the nurses station)  It saved confusion when the heart stopped pumping but there were a few random electrical effects looking like heartbeats.

Question Author

Currently up hospital with my nephew and family.

Just switched his life support off. Given him a couple of hours before he passes.


Thanks again for replies.

I'm so sorry you and family are going through this sad and distressing time. 

Take care of each other and take especial care of yourself nailedit x


Wishing you and your family the strength to cope with this awful situation.

So sorry Nailed it.  Take care.

Question Author

He's unaware. There's 8 of us around his bed at the moment. Just waiting for the event


How awful for you all. xx

It's always difficult, but with the drugs used in ITU  we are as confident as we can be that the person who is dying is pain and distress free.

My thoughts are with you and your family, Nailedit. A sad time. X

Question Author

Rowan, they gave him morphine before switching off. He looks quite peaceful 

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