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Here is an example of the type of situation that brought up this question. Say a PC has been pinned under the foot of a massive animated stone statue. The PC in question is knocked unconscious by the initial damage and will take additional damage each round, forcing failed death saves, as the statue continues to crush them. A nearby ally succeeds at a Medicine check to stabilize the pinned character so they won't have to make a Death Saving Throw on their next turn. On their next turn the PC being crushed will take a small amount, and suffer a failed death save. An ally will then make another Medicine check, making them stable again. Rinse and repeat.

Under Stabilize A Creature in the 5E PHB it states

If healing is unavailable, the creature can at least be stabilized so that it isn't killed by a failed death saving throw.

This means that with a DC 10 Wisdom (Medicine) check you can stabilize someone even if they have already failed one or two death saving throws. There seems to be nothing to prevent an ally, or allies if the first one fails their Medicine check, from indefinitely eliminating the risk of death in this circumstance with ongoing first aid.

Can Medicine checks be used, with decent rolls, to completely mitigate the risk of death from ongoing damage?

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Well Yes

Relevant excerpts from the death saving throw rules...

Regarding stabilization:

The number of both [successes and failures] is reset to zero when you regain any hit points or become stable. . . . A stable creature doesn't make death saving throws, even though it has 0 hit points, . . .

Regarding unstabilization:

If you take any damage while you have 0 hit points, you suffer a death saving throw failure. . . . The creature stops being stable, and must start making death saving throws again, if it takes any damage.

In summary:

  • A successful DC 10 Wisdom (Medicine) check will reset the number of failed death saving throws to zero and prevent additional death saving throws until damage is taken.
  • Only when that damage is taken do death saving throws commence once more.

So at a very basic level, these Medicine checks can stave off death indefinitely since successful stabilization will reset the number of failed death saving throws

But Actually No

Your question asks whether the risk of death can be completely mitigated, and unfortunately bad luck can still kill the player because, again from the death saving throw rules:

When you make a death saving throw and roll a 1 on the d20, it counts as two failures.

If the stabilized party member is dealt damage by the statue, he/she will suffer one failed death save. Then if the party member is immediately next in initiative, he/she could roll a 1 on the death save roll and consequently die before anyone has a chance to attempt stabiliztion again.

 

Additionally, your question states that the damage is coming from an

animated stone statue

If the statue is animated, then it might be making attack rolls depending on how sadistic your GM is. If an attack roll crits, the pinned character will suffer two failed death saving throws. And in this case it will, from the unconscious condition rules:

Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.

Then a third fail may occur on the character's turn if a party member is unable to stabilize him/her beforehand. Therefore, in this particular scenario (again, if the statue is making attack rolls in spite of low damage output), the character can die in a single round.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate the answer and clarity. I didn't factor in other potential actions by the statue or the pinned character's allies because I wanted to focus the relationship between Medicine checks to stabilize and death saves. Thank you sir. \$\endgroup\$ – Shane Walden Apr 8 at 1:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Probably worth adding that becoming stabilized has you regain 1 hit point after 1d4 hours (leaving you unconscious until then) and that any hit against an unconscious creature is a critical hit. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Apr 8 at 6:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ About the no part, the gm doesn't have to roll attacks. The same can happen if the character critically fails his death saving throw in his turn before someone had stabilzed him. \$\endgroup\$ – findusl Apr 8 at 6:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good catch, friends—I'll add these points asap \$\endgroup\$ – convoliution Apr 8 at 14:58
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Yes

What you describe is correct. A successful Wisdom (Medicine) check "resets" the death save counter.

But it costs you an Action

The healers are spending their Action (or perhaps Bonus Action) stabilising their friend. This means that they aren't attacking or casting spells or grappling, and so on.

It doesn't work with every source of potential death

Note that some effects that cause death saves explicitly state that you can't be made stable until the effect is removed.

For example, the suffocating rules state:

…can't regain hit points or be stabilized until it can breathe again.

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Not in this specific case

Others answers deal very well with the mechanical aspects of Wisdom (Medicine) checks regarding death throws so I won't cover them in this answer.

However I think it's important to remember that hit points and Wisdom throws are abstractions created by the rules, and the rules should be used at the discretion of the GM. The first tool you should use when making a ruling is your own logical sense.

In this instance the player is not trying to make a Wisdom (Medicine) check at another player. That makes no sense. They are trying to heal their comrade's shattered ribs or crushed windpipe or whatever. Now I'm not a doctor or anything, but that seems pretty hard to achieve when the other character's chest is still being crushed by the statue!

Therefore in this situation, I would rule that the medic ally cannot be allowed to try and heal their comrade, because the first step in healing a crushed chest is to remove the source of the crushing.

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