Life Support

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The issue of sustaining life by medical technology is complicated by uncertainty as to when death actually occurs. Is it when breathing ceases, the heart stops beating, or brain activity is no longer evident? Medical support can keep a body breathing after meaningful signs of human life have ceased. There are individuals who seemingly have died, only to be resuscitated within minutes of interrupted heartbeat or breathing. Some who have been so resuscitated and kept alive with life support have recovered and returned to live normal lives. Others have not. Questions arise in these instances: How long should one try to hold on to life, especially when suffering persists and the quality of life is at question? When is our appointed time to die?

Although most people may think of ventilators when they hear the words "life support machine," there are many other types of machines used to sustain one's life. The type of life support machine used depends on the medical condition of the patient and the reasons for the use of life support machines. Patients with life threatening illnesses may make the choice to use life support machines while they are still of sound mind and capable of making their own decisions. There are four main types of life support machines. The first is a ventilator, which forces air into the lungs of a patient who cannot breathe on her own. The second type is a pacemaker which is used for those who have irregular heartbeats, or for those who suffer from an abnormality of the blood vessels. Next, there are dialysis machines, which are most commonly used for patients who suffer from renal (kidney) failure. A ventilator works by forcing warm, oxygenated air into the lungs while removing carbon dioxide. A plastic tube is inserted through the mouth and into the trachea, and is then hooked up to the ventilator which monitors every breath of the patient while regulating the air pressure at which the patient receives the air. Pacemakers...
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