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Life Support Issues/Ability to hear while on Life Support


Dear Betsy,

My dad coded for 20 minutes and is currently on life support.  We are facing the difficult decision of taking him off support.  His recent test showed very little brain activity.  We have been told (and you also posted in another response) that we should continue to talk to him, that he can hear us.  Although I've always believed that to be true, now faced with this personal situation I don't understand how he can "hear" if he has little to no brain activity.  Is this more of a spiritual hearing? Which I can and do believe in.  I want to believe that he physically can hear us but I am having difficulty adding it up.
Thank you so much.


I am so sorry about your father and the tasks that await your family. Letting go of a loved one who has no chance of meaningful recovery takes a great deal of courage and love.

Regarding the hearing. There have been accounts of people in a coma who can relate everything that happened to them. I don't know about people with little brain activity or what happens with their souls as they wait between this life and next. I do believe that people can feel energies as well as words so speaking to him will also be received energetically.

Familiar voices and words of love do matter. I would trust that your loving words go to that place where they need to be. I have spoken to loved ones who were not conscious in order to have my chance to tell them how much they meant to me. One person temporarily recovered and let me know how meaningful it was for them to hear those words in their unconscious state.  So we speak those words for those we love, but we also speak them for outselves, to have our opportunity for closure. I hope you get that opportunity for both your father's sake and for your own. I also hope that your family finds peace in the coming weeks.  

Life Support Issues

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Betsy Murphy


My expertise is in end of life care for adults. Identifying when someone is approaching the end of their life. Benefits and burdens of end of life treatments. Managing pain and other symptoms. Providing care for dying patients at home. Advocating for someone who is dying in a hospital or nursing home.


More than 28 years of experience in hospice care. Currently consulting with hospices to promote access for patients to receive hospice care earlier in the course of their illness. Betsy provides training for hospice marketing staff to effectively work with nursing facilities to help identify eligible patients. She writes Additional Development Request (ADR) letters to Medicare to help hospices get paid for their services and to avoid future claim denials.

Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association

Articles: Clinical Reviews, Advance for Nurses, Nursing Spectrum, Washington Business Woman,; Understanding Medical-Surgical Nursing (FA Davis and Company), Guide to Caregiving in the Final Months of Life (TM Brown publishers).

Bachelors of Science in Nursing, additionally trained as a Family Nurse Practitioner and certified as a hospice and palliative care nurse.

Awards and Honors
Outstanding Woman in Loudoun County (VA) by Loudoun County Commission on Women 1997 and 2002.

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