Doctors can delay death or otherwise prolong an individual's life by using different types of life support procedures. Life support is used to keep a patient's organs functioning until they are capable of working alone, according to WebMD. These procedures are not guaranteed to work, and some patients never recover.
There are many types of life support, and each one is unique to its purpose, as WebMD explains. For someone who needs lung support, such as those who suffer from pneumonia, ALS or other respiratory issues, doctors use a ventilator, which keeps oxygen flowing throughout the body by pushing air into the lungs. When someone's heart stops, procedures such as CPR, defibrillation and medication are used in an attempt to regain use of the organ. Doctors use less urgent forms of life support for additional help. For example, dialysis is used to filter toxins from the blood, and a feeding tube or IV is used to provide nutrition.
When there is no hope of the patient on life support being able to function independently, the doctor is likely to suggest removing the patient from life support. People usually die within a short period of being taken off the support, ranging from a few hours to a few days. Patients using a ventilator often stop breathing soon after the life support is shut off. When patients are brain dead, without a sound mind or unconscious, the family decides when the support should stop. Although it may be difficult to make the decision to end life support, maintaining it can be very costly, according to WebMD.