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Keywords:

  • resuscitation;
  • arrest;
  • communication;
  • ethics

Abstract

Background

Decisions to withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for future cardiac arrest continue to be problematic, with a lack of consistency in how doctors approach this decision.

Aims

To develop a clinical model that can be used in education to improve consistency in CPR decision-making.

Methods

A qualitative study, using semistructured interviews with a total of 33 senior doctors, junior doctors and nurses from two Melbourne hospitals explored how decisions to withhold CPR are made. Interviews explored: issues arising; how doctors learn to make these decisions; how they deal with disagreement and their experiences of performing CPR. The transcripts were coded and analysed thematically.

Results

Three major themes were identified: CPR as a life-and-death decision; good and bad dying; and trust. The research also defined the two elements to a CPR decision: (i) technical and (ii) ethical.

Conclusions

Applying ethical principles commonly used in medicine, a model for ethical CPR decision-making has been developed that identifies four patient groups, each with a different discussion aim. This approach simplifies the complexities of the CPR decision, providing a structured way to teach CPR decision-making to doctors and thereby achieve greater consistency in the decisions made.