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So something bad is about to happen; a nuclear weapon is about to go off, or an asteroid is about to impact the planet and the only way to avoid this is if someone stays behind and sacrifices himself to stop it. But who will go? All of these characters are life long friends. There's no easy way to decide. Or is there? One of the characters has an Incurable Cough of Death and only a few months to live. He'll do it - after all, he's dying anyway, and in a far less dramatic and spectacular way.
This trope is about when a character gives his life for something based on the reasoning that he's going to die soon anyway. It's a favorite for when a writer wants to make a bittersweet ending less bitter.
Occasionally, the doctor will burst in just a second too late to explain that he Tested The Wrong Vial and the character isn't (wasn't) going to die. Oh well, it's too late now!
Compare The Last Dance.
- Near the beginning of Space Cowboys Tommy Lee Jones' character is told he has pancreatic cancer with only eight months to live. Naturally the only way to save the world from a Russian satellite armed with nuclear missiles is for somebody to fly it into the moon and since he is dying and going there has been his lifelong dream, guess who volunteers.
- At the end of Gran Torino when Walt tricks the local street gang into shooting him to death in front of all the neighbors so that they'll all go to prison. Earlier Walt is revealed to have a serious but unnamed condition that causes him to cough up blood.
- After Snape kills Dumbledore at the end of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, we are informed in Deathly Hallows that The curse on Dumbledore's hand was slowly killing him, and he had ordered Snape to kill him so that Draco wouldn't have to do it, thus saving Draco's soul. Interesting in that the character is not revealed to have been critically ill until after his death.
- Another example where we find out after the fact: In The Dresden Files (Death Masks), Harry is being held in a completely inescapable position by the Dangerously Genre Savvy Nicodemus, who offers him a choice between joining him or being killed. That's when Shiro barges in and offers himself in Harry's place, letting the Denarians torture him to death. A couple weeks after everything goes down, Harry gets a letter in the mail: Shiro had terminal cancer and only a few months to live.
- The entire point of Joe Versus the Volcano, with a twist: he was never sick.
- Played with in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa with Melman also going to jump into a volcano. Also never sick.
- Early in the X-Men comics, Professor Xavier died. Then he returned. It was explained via flashback that a terminally ill mutant scallywag calling himself the Changeling offered to pose as Xavier so the Prof could prepare for an imminent invasion. Jean knew, so as to help the shape-shifter better pass off as the X-Men's mentor.
- Naruto: Played straight with Kimimaro, who dies with his weapon just centimeters away from piercing Gaara's eye.
- If he was that fast and strong when he was dying of terminal illness, then think about how fast and strong he was when he was healthy.
- Subverted later in the Sasuke vs. Itachi fight. Itachi appears as though he's about to kill Sasuke, when he keels over dead after coughing up copious amounts of blood throughout the fight. But then it's revealed that even if he hadn't died from his illness, he wouldn't have killed Sasuke anyway. Especially convenient for anybody standing in Itachi's way; when he was healthy, he completely wrecked two of Konoha's strongest shinobi without breaking a sweat.
- In 24, CTU Director George Mason gets a fatal case of radiation poisoning while searching for a nuke in Day 2. At the end of the Day, Jack flies an airplane carrying the nuke on a suicide course to the desert to prevent it from killing anyone only for a stowaway Mason to reveal himself, convince Jack to not throw his life away and take his place at the controls while Jack parachutes to safety.
- It also helps that while Mason was dying, he looked back on his life and realized how much he had made everyone close to him dislike him, which caused him to try make amends with his remaining time. Being poisoned not only gave him a reason to sacrifice himself in another's place (he says that he'd rather not suffer the end stage poisoning effects), but most likely was why he would even consider doing so.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, the same character does it in two different ways.
- In The Conqueror of Shamballa, The Movie of the first anime, Hohenheim does this incomprehensibly.
- In the manga and Brotherhood adaptation, Hohenheim offers to do this to bring Alphonse back since his ontological inertia has been broken down in the battle and he is dying anyway. Ed refuses and sacrifices his own ability to do alchemy instead. Hohenheim went and died smiling on his wife Trisha's grave instead.
- In Repo! The Genetic Opera, Rotti Largo is told that whatever illness he has is terminal, so he sets the movie's plot in motion, namely naming Shilo as the heir to Gene Co. He dies at the end of the movie.
- In Final Fantasy X, Seymour's mother indirectly cites this as being part of her willingness to sacrifice herself to become his Final Aeon, with which he could destroy Sin and save the world. Uniquely for this trope, it manages to backfire spectacularly, because what any outcast Half-Human Hybrid needs is for his mother to lay the weight of saving the world on his shoulders as she kills herself/leaves him forever. Is it any wonder he winds up a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds?
- In MGLN Crisis, the clones of Miyuki and Kyouya, according to Shamal, have about a year to live. They make a Heroic Sacrifice toward the end of the fic.
- In Gene Catlow, a boy with brain cancer who hates furries frames them with his suicide. It doesn't end well for him.