Withdrawing Versus not Offering Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation: Is There a Difference?
Conflict between substitute decision makers (SDMs) and health care providers in the intensive care unit is commonly related to goals of treatment at the end of life. Based on recent court decisions, even medical consensus that ongoing treatment is not clinically indicated cannot justify withdrawal of mechanical ventilation without consent from the SDM. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), similar to mechanical ventilation, is a life-sustaining therapy that can result in disagreement between SDMs and clinicians. In contrast to mechanical ventilation, in cases for which CPR is judged by the medical team to not be clinically indicated, there is no explicit or case law in Canada that dictates that withholding/not offering of CPR requires the consent of SDMs. In such cases, physicians can ethically and legally not offer CPR, even against SDM or patient wishes. To ensure that nonclinically indicated CPR is not inappropriately performed, hospitals should consider developing ‘scope of treatment’ forms that make it clear that even if CPR is desired, the individual components of resuscitation to be offered, if any, will be dictated by the medical team’s clinical assessment.