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Taken Off Life Support

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When a character is unlikely to come out of a coma or recover from fatal injuries, making them an Empty Shell, they are taken off the ventilator or a feeding tube. While it is usually done for reasons of no hope, there are times it is taken off for petty reasons, like to get insurance money or inheritance, or the patient is hated by the person that takes the life support off. It can also be used as sitting-duck assassination.


This generally shows up in a Medical Drama when it doesn't look like the patient will survive, though it does show up in a Police Procedural when a victim doesn't survive an attack.

This is a Death Trope, so beware unmarked spoilers.

Since this happens often in real life, No Real Life Examples, Please!


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  • Never Say No to Panda: One of the ads has the panda remove a hospital patient's feeding tube because he didn't want to eat Panda Cheese, much to the nurse's horror.
  • One TAC public information film from Christmastime 1996 had a married father of two drive drunk and suffer a serious brain injury. After a few days in a coma, the doctors inform his family that he's brain-dead and must be removed from the machines.

     Fan Fic  

  • In NUMB3RS story Don Eppes: After being shot while protecting several children, Don is taken off life support after flatlining twenty minutes prior and is kept alive long enough for his friends and family to say goodbye.
  • The Saga of Avatar Korra: Asami takes her own father off life support after deciding it's futile to hope he will wake up from his coma and even if he does, he will spend the rest of his days in jail for helping the Equalists in their terrorism.


     Film - Live Action  

  • The Brave One has the protagonist's fiancé removed from life-support by his family after the two of them were brutally attacked. She learns of both this and his funeral service after she awakens from a three-week coma.
  • The Descendants: When Matt's wife is in a boating accident and is left in a coma and her will dictates that she be taken off life support. He does so and she dies.
  • Dogma: The plot is resolved by taking God's incarnation of John Doe Jersey off life support. This simply sends Him back to heaven with omnipotent power restored.
  • Fracture (2007): Ted Crawford is acquitted for the attempted murder of his wife which left her in a coma, and because he is the next-of-kin is legally entitled to have her removed from life support despite Beachum's attempt to stop him. However, this opens him up to being tried for first-degree murder.
  • Just Like Heaven: Elizabeth is roaming the hospital as a disembodied spirit and finds her sister arranging to have her life support removed. When David finds out, he decides to kidnap her body from the hospital. During the rescue, Elizabeth's life support gets disconnected accidentally and David resorts to CPR to keep her alive. It ends up taking her out of her coma.
  • RoboCop 2: Dr. Fax visits a gravely injured Caine at the hospital, calls his doctor, posing as a nurse, and saying that he suddenly died. She unhooks the equipment keeping him alive, in order to harvest his brain for her Robo Cop-2 project.
  • Played for Laughs in Ruthless People. Sam discusses with his mistress how he managed to manipulate his wife, Barbara, to take her ailing, wealthy mother off of life-support so they can get her money. In the Black Comedy nature of the film, the woman reacted physically to being removed from the machines and ultimately survived, averting his ultimate plan.
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: When Doctor McCoy's father developed a illness that caused intense pain and begged McCoy to stop the pain by letting him die, McCoy turned off his father's life support system, killing him. It still haunts him that a cure for his father's illness was found shortly thereafter.
  • Steel Magnolias: Shelby ends up with this fate after suffering from kidney failure. She was unconscious for a week before the decision was made by her family.
  • Unfriended: Dark Web: The hackers give Serena a Sadistic Choice: they will either murder her girlfriend or cut off her ill mother's life support. Serena refuses to choose, and all three are killed.

     Live Action Television  

  • Arrested Development: The episode "Family Ties" has a debate over whether or not to take Buster off of life support while he's comatose in the hospital. The kicker: he's only faking the coma so he doesn't have to testify at his father's hearing.
  • Boston Legal: In the final season, Shirley realizes her terminally ill father is in constant pain with no hope for recovery, and asks the doctor to put him on a morphine drip so he can pass away peacefully. The doctor is fully sympathetic and agrees with her that it'd be the most merciful thing to do, but legally, his hands are tied. However, he indirectly instructs her on how to get a court order, so then, he'd have no choice but to comply. She succeeds, and the episode ends with her father finally being taken off life support and is allowed to pass on.
  • Done plenty of times on Coronation Street, most notably during the 50th Anniversary Live Episode where Charlotte Hoyle was taken off of life-support by her parents after being mortally wounded by John Stape.
  • Discussed on Frasier:
    Frasier: [Talking about Martin's chair] Dad can't you see it's suffering, it wants to die.
    Martin: I had a dream that you said that. Except I was in a hospital bed and you were slipping the nurse a twenty.
    Fraser: Dad that would never happen.
    Martin: Thank you.
    Frasier: I have medical power of attorney. It wouldn't cost me a dime.
  • Dexter: Near the end of the final season, Debra gets shot by the serial killer, "The Brain Surgeon, and because of a blood clot, she ends up brain dead. In the finale, Dexter tearfully pulls off her life support.
  • Fringe: Subverted in the season two episode "Unearthed" as a girl named Lisa Donovan was declared brain dead and taken off life support. However, she comes back to life when the doctors are harvesting organs to donate. She keeps saying the name of a sailor named Andrew Rusk, even though they had never met among other strange experiences. It later turns out she and Rusk are linked psychically and Rusk takes control of her before Lisa was able to finally purge herself of him.
  • NCIS: In the season four episode "Iceman", a marine named Col. Liam O'Neill was supposedly found dead and brought to autopsy for examination. However, when Ducky starts taking a look at the man, O'Neill suddenly wakes up and is taken to the hospital. He is revealed to be Mike Franks' son, which he didn't know about until a couple years prior. It is later determined that O'Neill is effectively brain dead and with Franks present, they take off the ventilator and O'Neill dies permanently.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In the season three episode "Life Support", Vedek Bareil is seriously injured in a shuttle accident. At first thought to be dead after failed attempts to save him, brain activity is found while an autopsy is about to be preformed and is saved. However, damage soon reaches Bareil's brain and it's eventually determined that it's best to let him die, even though Kira begs Bashir to save him. In end, he dies with Kira by his side.
  • Titus: When a car accident left Christopher comatose, Ken decided to take him off life support. The shock of being taken off life support actually causes his brain to reactivate.

     Video Games  

  • Mass Effect: A side mission has you investigate a Ghost Ship. It turns out that a decision was made to take a brain dead man off life support, so his biotic girlfriend went mad and wiped out the crew. After she attacks you and is killed, you can choose to turn off the life support yourself- or not. Your Karma Meter isn't affected either way.

     Web Animation  


  • Loading Artist comic (Life Support) has a father sitting by his son's bedside as the boy lays there motionless. The father says he can't bear it anymore and reaches behind the bed. Saying "Please forgive me", he pulls the plug. Subverted. He actually unplugged the boy's laptop which he was fixated on to the point of catatonia.


     Western Animation  

  • Family Guy: In "Coma Guy", Peter ends up on life support after a car accident. Lois, after a long struggle with herself, decides to pull the plug. Immediately after, Peter suddenly springs back to life, and the rest of the episode is dedicated to Peter being outraged at Lois was going to let him die.
    • A cutaway in one episode had Brian try to fulfill a dying woman's request to do this, but she claims to be shocked that he was willing to follow through, albeit hesitantly, and call for security. Brian quickly leaves, calling her crazy.
  • The Simpsons:
    • During the first Clip Show episode, which has Mr. Burns wants to take Homer off life support for costing his health plan too much money.
    • As seen in "Homer The Smithers", part of Mr. Burns' backstory is a strained relationship with his elderly mother and he having a phone conversation with her where he sheepishly apologized for "pulling the plug on her" and her miraculously recovering and living more than fifty years later.
  • South Park: In the episode "Best Friends Forever", Kenny once again dies after getting into a car crash but it is actually an act of god as he is needed in the fight against Hell. However, he is put in a vegetative state preventing him from doing so. Cartman actively campaigns to get Kenny off life support so he can get Kenny's PSP. They plan to have it on tv but after reading the will that asks that he is not killed on tv. By the end of the episode, Kenny dies and he goes up to heaven and helps defeat Hell and he get a Keanu Reeves statue.


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