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Who Decides to Take Someone Off Life Support?

The decision to take someone off life support usually depends on a number of factors and is typically made by the patient’s healthcare team in consultation with the patient’s family or designated healthcare proxy, if the patient is unable to make their own decisions.

In some cases, the decision may be guided by the patient’s expressed wishes, such as through a living will or advance directive. The healthcare team may also take into account the patient’s medical condition, prognosis, and overall quality of life.

Ultimately, the decision to remove life support is a complex and deeply personal one that requires careful consideration of a variety of factors, and is made on a case-by-case basis.

Read below to find out more details and questions you may want to ask before deciding to take someone off life support.

Shared Responsibility

In the United States, the decision to take someone off life support is generally shared between close relatives and doctors. A wife will likely make the ultimate choice to remove her husband from life support, but she is first counseled by medical personnel.

Making the decision alone is scary, which is why it is best to draw strength from others. There is no shame in seeking counsel.

How to Tell When Someone Needs to Be Taken Off Life Support

There is no “one size fits all” guide to deciding when to take someone off life support. Letting a loved one go is the hardest thing a person can do.

That said, if you are struggling with the decision and don’t know what to do, ask yourself the following questions.

1. Will my loved one get any better?

Sometimes individuals on life support have a small chance of getting better, in which case hope will prevent you from choosing to remove them from life support.

2. Will my loved one get any worse?

If there is absolutely no question that your loved one will continue to painfully deteriorate, your decision may be affected for their sake.

3. Are there other treatment options available?

Have you exhausted every possible resource? Be very direct with your loved one’s doctor in that you want to know every possible path and outcome.

4. What do the doctors have to say?

Doctors don’t know everything, however, they do know a lot. Do the doctors think your loved one has a chance, or are they firm that there is no hope left?

5. What would my loved one say?

When you come to the hardest decision of your life, ask yourself what your loved one would want you to do. If they have made a Living Will, then you will know their wishes. They would likely want you to make the right choice, even if the right choice is difficult.

Living Wills and Other Documents

It is so important to have these difficult conversations early on. No one ever expects to end up on life support. Poor planning and procrastination usually lead to heartache in situations like these. Because of this, you should always make sure you have a plan in place should you or your loved one end up on life support. However, should you find yourself in a position where you do not know your loved ones wishes, find their end of life documents.

You can consult with their lawyer or look in their safety deposit box. National databases may also carry the information where these end of life documents may have been stored. You can make a query and see if your loved one has registered the location of their papers.

National Registry

The U.S. Will Registry was founded in 1997 to fill an important gap. The location of a registered will or other documents is stored in a database for later access. The U.S. Will Registry provides families and beneficiaries with a means to find lost wills and estate planning documents of those who have passed away.

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