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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. In some cases, the patient may actually survive and come back around, which serves as another ideal source of drama when they happen to find out that their loved ones were about to let them die.

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.

    Comic Books 
  • John Arcudi's run on Doom Patrol establishes partway through that Dorothy Spinner became comatose after she went through a meltdown over facing life without the Doom Patrol and ended up killing her fellow teammate Kate Godwin/Coagula. At the end of the run, Robotman can't bear to see Dorothy waste away, so he asks that her life support be unplugged.
  • In G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Marvel), Scarlett is shot by the Baroness and ends up in a coma. Several issues later, her sister Siobhan announces she's filed a court order to have Scarlett taken off life support. After she does so (which actually invokes speech in Snake-Eyes), Scarlett makes a miraculous recovery with no apparent loss of mental function... after Storm Shadow has gotten Snake-Eyes to take a dangerous assignment to distract him.
  • Swamp Thing: One of the most dramatic moments of the post-Alan Moore run is issue #84, in which Abby finally finds the courage to take her husband Matt off life-support; Matt's soul goes on to become Dream's pet raven in The Sandman (1989).

    Fan Works 
  • The Arithmancer: Discussed in Chapter 61 of the sequel Lady Archimedes, where Hermione explains what the term means to her co-members of the Order who were raised in the magical world. Since this trope is defied by Catholic hospitals, Hermione exploits this defiance to make a plan so as to deal with two Voldemort-aligned characters they captured without crossing the line of committing war crimes.
  • Beautiful Monster: Chas makes the difficult decision of taking Chuckie off life support after waiting in vain for months for him to wake up from his seizure-induced coma.
  • In the NUMB3RS fanfic 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.
  • Mike's New Ghostly Family: As it was revealed, the true reason why Evan Afton a.k.a. the victim of the Bite of '83 died was not due to passing away from his injuries, but because his father, William Afton, had his life support unplugged, presenting his case to the doctors as a Mercy Kill due to the fact that the damage done to his brain would leave him broken for life, but in reality, he simply wanted to kill him due to not wanting to raise a disabled child, and because Evan saw his sister Elizabeth get killed by Circus Baby, so William wanted to end his life to prevent him from revealing that information to anyone.
  • 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.
  • Not Easily Broken: Throughout the film, Julie's son Bryson is training for a huge swim meet. He won, but in his drive to win, he ultimately swam too hard, collides with a knot in the pool wall and suffers a traumatic brain injury. He is soon taken off of life-support against his mother's wishes.note 
  • On My Mind: Henrik comes into a bar one day at lunch, in a state of obvious agitation. He insists that the bartender fire up the karaoke machine and record him singing the song "Always on My Mind". Why? Because his wife Trina is in brain death and is about to be taken off of life support, and that was her favorite song. Henrik takes his phone with the video back to the hospital, and after he plays it for Trine, the doctor pulls the plug.
  • 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 TV 
  • 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.
  • The Brittas Empire: Played for Laughs in "Assassin", which has Helen take a severely injured Brittas off life support simply because she wanted him dead. Luckily for Brittas, Laura is able to convince her to put the plug back in and he makes a full recovery.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Starved", a bulimic woman married to a doctor/Serial Rapist ends up this way after going into cardiac arrest. Whereas a legal battle ensues between the husband and her mother, both of whom argue over the decision to keep her alive, the courts ultimately ruled in his favor and her treatment is withdrawn. Shortly after her death, the detectives uncover a newspaper article where the couple were interviewed after witnessing a fatal car accident (that the husband tried to render aid for the victims) and it indeed had her mentioning that she would not want to be kept alive via artificial means.
  • 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.
  • On Seinfeld, Kramer's subplot in "The Comeback" explores being taken off life support. After he watches part of a movie in which a character ends up in a coma, he decides he'd rather not let his life end like that and commissions a lawyer to draw up a living will. After the will is drafted, Kramer finishes watching the movie. The character who was in the coma recovers. Now knowing that it's possible to survive being in a coma, he tries to meet with the lawyer again to have the will nullified. Before he can, he's rendered unconscious in an accident and ends up in the hospital. Elaine unplugs a piece of equipment to plug in her VCR just as Kramer wakes up. He sees the plug in her hand and becomes terrified.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In the season three episode "Life Support", Vedek Bareil is seriously injured in a shuttle accident. At first he was thought to be dead after failed attempts to save him, but brain activity was found while an autopsy is about to be preformed and he is saved. However, damage soon reaches Bareil's brain, and brain implants are needed to save him. After the the surgery, Bareil is alive, but a different person. Things only go further downhill from there, and the only way to save him is to add more implants. It's decided 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 that 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 want 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 him 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. The entire controversy ends up being a media circus, and when they finally do read Kenny's will they find out it explicitly begs for the plug to be pulled and to not show him in this state so he can die with dignity. By the end of the episode, Kenny dies and he goes up to heaven and helps defeat Hell and he gets a Keanu Reeves statue.

  • A popular meme shows a guy in a coma, hooked up to various life support machines. The top caption says, "If I'm ever stuck on life support, just unplug me." The bottom caption says, "Then plug me in again. See if that works."
  • Another, more recent internet meme takes the box illustration for the board game Connect 4 and rewords it as the following:
    "I'm ready son!"