Handbook for Mortals : Ventilation

Decisions about ventilators

Ventilators push air and oxygen into the lungs and often save lives. Even so, people with very serious disease may prefer not to have a ventilator or to have one removed. Reasons not to use a ventilator include:

These are all things to consider when deciding whether or not to try a ventilator. For one or two weeks, a ventilator can be hooked up through your nose or mouth. For a longer period, you would need a tracheostomy (a hole in your throat) to insert the tube.

Ask your doctor how comfortable he or she is in removing the ventilator. Can your doctor keep you comfortable as the ventilator is removed? Does your doctor have experience with sedatives, so you won't ever feel short of breath? Can you go home or stay at home? Be sure your doctor will do what you want.

As with other decisions you will make at the end of life, this one is complex because of the emotional issues raised by stopping a ventilator. Nevertheless, you can choose to forgo all use or to have a time-limited trial with a planned withdrawal.

Closely related subjects:

Adapted from The Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness, by Joanne Lynn and Joan Harrold, copyright by Joanne Lynn, used by permission of Oxford University Press.