Resuscitation 95 (2015) 302–311
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European Resuscitation Council Guidelines for Resuscitation 2015
Section 11. The ethics of resuscitation and end-of-life decisions
Leo L. Bossaert a,∗, Gavin D. Perkins b,c, Helen Askitopoulou d,e, Violetta I. Raffay f,
Robert Greif g, Kirstie L. Haywood h, Spyros D. Mentzelopoulos i, Jerry P. Nolan j,
Patrick Van de Voorde k,l, Theodoros T. Xanthos m,n, on behalf of The ethics of
resuscitation and end-of-life decisions section Collaborators1
a University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium
b Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
c Critical Care Unit, Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, Birmingham, UK
d Medical School, University of Crete, Heraklion, Greece
e Ethics Committee of the European Society for Emergency Medicine (EuSEM), UK
f Municipal Institute for Emergency Medicine Novi Sad, Novi Sad, Serbia
g University Hospital Bern and University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
h Royal College of Nursing Research Institute, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
i University of Athens Medical School, Athens, Greece
j Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine, Royal United Hospital, and University of Bristol, Bath, UK
k University Hospital and University Ghent, Belgium
l Federal Department Health, Belgium
m University of Athens, Medical School, Greece
n Midwestern University, Chicago, USA
Summary of changes since the ERC 2010 guidelines
The traditional medical-centred approach with an emphasis
on beneficence has shifted towards a balanced patient-centred
approach with greater emphasis on patient autonomy. This has
resulted in a readiness for understanding and interaction between
patient and healthcare professionals. Future guidelines may benefit from involvement of all stakeholders: members of the public,
patients, survivors and the society as active partners in understanding and implementing the ethical principles.
The content and implementation of the traditional ethical principles are placed in the context of a patient-centred approach to
• Autonomy, including respect for personal preferences expressed
in advance directives, which implies correct information and
• Beneficence, including prognostication, when to start, futility,
ongoing CPR during transportation, special situations, with clear
distinction between sudden cardiac arrest and expected cessation
of cardiac function and respiration in terminal situations.
∗ Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com (L.L. Bossaert).
1 The members of The ethics of resuscitation and end-of-life decisions section
Collaborators are listed in the Collaborators section.
• Non-maleficence, including DNAR/DNACPR, when to stop/
withhold and involvement of patient or proxy.
• Justice and equal access, including avoiding inequalities.
Whilst the sad reality is that the majority of those that sustain
a cardiac arrest do not survive, recent studies provide evidence of
steady improvement in outcomes particularly where the formula
of survival is well implemented. Specific cases of refractory cardiac arrest, which would historically have been fatal, may benefit
from additional interventional approaches. A further improvement
in survival may be expected by applying clear guidance for starting,
not starting, withdrawing or withholding resuscitation attempts,
and by identifying refractory cases that may respond to advanced
Europe is a patchwork of 47 countries (Council of Europe)
with differences in national laws, jurisdiction, culture, religion, and
economic capabilities. European countries interpret the ethical recommendations of resuscitation in the context of these factors.
A survey of current ethical practice across Europe was conducted
in the context of these guidelines. A significant variability in the
approach to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and end-of-life
was documented. Whilst areas for improvement were identified, it highlighted a trend towards better application of ethical
The need for harmonisation in legislation, jurisdiction, terminology and practice remains. The mission of the ERC and its Guidelines
is to contribute to this harmonisation.
0300-9572/© 2015 European Resuscitation Council. Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
L.L. Bossaert et al. / Resuscitation 95 (2015) 302–311 303
New European Union (EU) regulation permitting deferred consent will harmonise and foster research of emergency interventions
across EU Member States.
Healthcare professionals are responsible for maintaining their
knowledge, understanding and skills, and to understand the ethical
principles before being involved in a real situation where resuscitation decisions must be made.
Sudden unexpected cardiac arrest (CA) is a catastrophic unexpected but potentially reversible event that involves family, friends
and society. In Europe cardiac arrest occurs in 0.5–1.0 per 1000
inhabitants per year. Although a slow improvement has been
observed over recent years, survival after out-of-hospital Cardiac
Arrest (OHCA) remains low with an average survival to hospital
discharge of 7.6%.1–9
Potentially reversible sudden unexpected cardiac arrest should
be distinguished from the expected cessation of circulation and respiration in a terminal condition. Better medical knowledge, new
and advanced interventions, and increasing expectations of the
public have rendered ethical considerations an important part of
any end-of-life intervention or decision. This includes optimising
results for individual patients and society by appropriate allocation
In recent years there has been a shift from a doctor-centred
approach with emphasis on beneficence, towards a patient-centred
approach with greater emphasis on patient autonomy. This change
is reflected in the 2015 ERC ethics guidelines for resuscitation and
This chapter provides information and guidance on the principles of ethics: ethical and professional guidance for healthcare
professionals responsible for providing resuscitation including
when to start and when to stop resuscitation and special considerations required for children and for organ donation after an
unsuccessful resuscitation attempt.
The healthcare professional should understand the ethical principles before being involved in a real situation where resuscitation
decisions must be made.
We also report the initial findings from a European survey on
Ethical Practices, which documented significant variation between
countries in the approach to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
and end-of-life practices.
There is a clear need for harmonisation in legislation, terminology and practice. The mission of the ERC Guidelines is to contribute
to this harmonisation.
Aspects of ethics for resuscitation and end-of-life decisions
Ethics is defined as the ways of examining and understanding
the moral life, or the application of ethical reasoning to medical
decision making. The key principles of medical ethics are: autonomy of the individual, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice.
Dignity and honesty are frequently added as essential elements of
The principle of patient autonomy
Respect for autonomy refers to a physician’s obligation to
respect a patient’s preferences and to make decisions that accord
with a patient’s values and beliefs. Patient-centred healthcare
places the patient at the centre of the decision-making process,
rather than as a recipient of a medical decision. This requires
patients to have an adequate understanding of relevant issues
regarding their treatment options, thus enabling them to make
informed decisions or participate in shared decision-making.
Patient education has contributed significantly to this change in
emphasis. The principle of autonomy is implemented through free
and informed consent, and recognises that the person may change
their decision at any time. Applying this principle during cardiac
arrest where the patient is often unable to communicate preferences is challenging.11,14–16 Moreover, the legally documented
wishes of an individual patient may not be readily available,
causing further ethical dilemma: how can healthcare professionals embrace patient-centricity when the views of the patient are
The principle of beneficence
Beneficence implies that interventions must benefit the patient
after assessing relevant risk and benefit. Evidence-based clinical guidelines exist to assist healthcare professionals in deciding
which treatment approaches are most appropriate.20–22 Increasingly, patients are involved as active partners in the guideline
development process, ensuring that patient’s views and perspective are captured in the guidance provided.23 Such involvement,
however, has not yet been witnessed in the context of resuscitation
The principle of non-maleficence
Non-maleficence or ‘primum non nocere’ stems from the Hippocratic axiom ‘help or at least do no harm’. CPR should not be
performed in futile cases. However, it is difficult to define futility
in a way that is precise, prospective and applies to the majority of cases. CPR is an invasive procedure with a low likelihood
of success. Advance directives are rarely available to emergency
healthcare professionals. Therefore, CPR has become the norm for
most patients with acute, life-threatening conditions.24,25
The principle of justice and equitable access
Justice implies that health resources are distributed equally and
fairly, irrespective of the patient’s social status, in the absence of
discrimination, with the right for each individual to receive the
current standard of care. The appropriate allocation of resources
has become an important consideration for invasive procedures.
CPR is a procedure requiring coordinated efforts of many healthcare
professionals. The ethical considerations regarding CPR and end-oflife decisions include achieving the best results for the individual
patient, for relatives and for society as a whole by appropriate allocation of available resources. There is no consensus about what
constitutes a just and fair method of balancing the preferences and
requirements of individual patients against the diverse needs of
Withholding specific medical care due to financial motives is
not acceptable but it may be appropriate to consider the overall
costs and potential benefits to the individual patient, the family
There is evidence that citizens from lower socioeconomic groups
have both an increased incidence and lower chance of survival of
OHCA. The likelihood of a person receiving bystander CPR after
a cardiac arrest is nearly five times greater in higher income
neighbourhoods compared with lower income ones. Caucasian
patients are more likely to receive bystander CPR than other ethnic
The World Medical Association (WMA) defines futile medical
treatment as a treatment that “offers no reasonable hope of recovery or improvement” or from which “the patient is permanently
unable to experience any benefit”. Resuscitation is considered futile
when the chances of good quality survival are minimal.40 The
first prerequisite to consider a treatment futile is the presence or
absence of a medical indication. The decision not to attempt resuscitation does not require the consent of patients or of those close
304 L.L. Bossaert et al. / Resuscitation 95 (2015) 302–311
to them, who often have unrealistic expectations about the likely
success and potential benefits of resuscitation.41,42 Starting a futile
treatment may offer false hope to the family and patient that may
undermine the patient’s ability for rational judgment and autonomy. 40,43 However, decision makers have a duty to consult the
patient or a representative if the patient lacks capacity, in accordance with a “clear and accessible policy”.44–46 The medical team
must explain that the decision not to attempt resuscitation does not
mean giving up or that the patient will be ignored or abandoned,
but rather that the intent is to protect the patient from harm and
to maximise comfort and quality of life.44,47
Some countries allow prospective decisions to withhold CPR
whilst in others countries or religions withholding CPR is not
allowed or considered illegal. There is a lack of consistency in terms
such as ‘Do Not Attempt Resuscitation’ (DNAR), ‘Do Not Attempt
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation’ (DNACPR) or ‘Allow Natural Death’
(AND). This confusing use of acronyms may generate misunderstandings in national legislation and jurisdiction 48,49
Advance directives are decisions about treatment provided
prospectively by an individual in case they are unable to participate
directly in medical decision-making at some point in the future.50
Advance directives can take two different but not mutually exclusive forms: (1) ‘Living Wills’ are written documents that express
a person’s preferences regarding the provision or the withholding
of specified treatments in the event that they become unable to
make decisions in the future; and (2) a ‘Lasting power of attorney for health care’ allows individuals to appoint a proxy (e.g., a
trusted relative or friend) who can make health care decisions on
their behalf in case they lose decision-making capacity.51
The advance directives must meet three criteria: existence,
validity and applicability. Physicians must not delay resuscitation interventions while trying to establish if an advance directive
prohibiting CPR exists.51 Neither must CPR be attempted if it is considered more harmful than helpful, even if contrary to a valid and
applicable advance decision.
In several countries advance directives have the same legal
force as contemporaneous decisions. However, their applicability
is complicated by the challenge of drafting a directive that accurately represents a patient’s wishes at the time of writing.52 Indeed,
people often adapt to disabilities, and preferences may change
over time. Therefore, periodic reviews of directives are required to
ensure patients’ current wishes and circumstances are accurately
Article 9 of the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine
requires physicians to “take into account” previously expressed
wishes of their patients.19 However, the legal status of advance
directives in the national legislation of European countries is very
disparate. Several countries have adopted specific laws assigning
binding force to advance directives about end of life decisions,
Human Rights relevant to resuscitation and end-of-life decisions
Policies about resuscitation and individual decisions of healthcare professionals must comply with human rights. Provisions
relevant to decisions about attempting CPR include the following
rights: to life; to protection from inhuman or degrading treatment;
to respect for privacy and family life; to freedom of expression,
which includes the right to hold opinions and to receive information; and to be free from discriminatory practice in respect of these
rights.19 Failing to involve a patient at the time of writing a DNAR
order breaches Article 8 of the European Convention of Human
The increasing centricity of the patient within healthcare
demands that we seek to understand the perspective of the
survivor of cardiac arrest, with assessment seeking to be inclusive of clinical and patient-reported outcomes over the short
and longer-term. This has been recognised within the updated
Utstein Resuscitation Registry template for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, which recommends the assessment of patient-reported
outcomes and the quality of life of survivors.54 However, specific
assessment guidance does not currently exist. The COSCA (Core
Outcome Set—Cardiac Arrest) initiative will seek international consensus on what should be measured and when in all clinical
trials of cardiac arrest, and make recommendations on both clinical and patient-reported outcomes.55,56 Such guidance may also
inform patient-centred outcome assessment in routine practice
and registries, informing more targeted treatment and allocation
of resources for survivors of cardiac arrest.54–58
Ethically, we cannot ignore the patient perspective. However,
ensuring that patient-centred outcomes are captured to the best
effect requires an improved understanding of what matters, for
whom, in what context and when: this requires a further commitment to work together with the public, with the survivors of cardiac
arrest and their families as partners in this process.59
Practical implications for in- and out-of-hospital cardiac
Outcome from sudden cardiac arrest
Resuscitation attempts are unsuccessful in 70–98% of cases. In
pre-hospital systems with a well-organised implementation of the
elements of the ‘formula of survival’ 20 about 1/3–1/2 of patients
may achieve return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) with CPR,
with a smaller proportion surviving to the hospital critical care unit.
Smaller proportions still survive to hospital discharge with good
The best resuscitation outcome is for an individual to be cognitively unimpaired and with an acceptable quality of life, or to report
no significant deterioration when compared to the pre-morbid
However, studies have reported cognitive impairment in up to
50% of survivors.9,60,61 Moreover, where acceptable levels of quality of life have been reported, this has been assessed using generic,
preference-based utility measures such as the EuroQoL EQ-5D or
Health Utility Index, or generic health status measures such as
the Short Form 12-item Health Survey (SF-12).57,62,63 Whilst providing a broad overview of health status and a useful comparator
with the general population, generic measures cannot capture the
complexities of specific conditions and it is unclear if they accurately assess the outcomes that really matter to the CA survivors.55
Consequently, they may underestimate the health needs and experiences of survivors, and are often less responsive to important
changes in recovery than well-developed condition or domain specific measures.55
Early adequate CPR may increase survival beyond 50%.64,65 Substantial variation in survival is seen between communities.66–69
Real improvements in global outcome will require a communitycentred ‘public health’ approach.8,70 Policy-level executives need
to become aware of their crucial role in this.
In-hospital cardiac arrest (IHCA)
Following in-hospital cardiac arrest, the default position is to
start resuscitation unless a decision was made to withhold CPR.
L.L. Bossaert et al. / Resuscitation 95 (2015) 302–311 305
Decisions to withhold resuscitation are usually taken by a senior
physician in collaboration with members of the multi-professional
team.71 Resuscitation decisions should be reviewed following an
emergency admission to hospital, after any important changes in
patient status / prognosis, following a request from the patient
or their relatives, and prior to discharge / transfer to another
facility.72Standardised systems to withhold resuscitation decrease
the incidence of futile resuscitation attempts.72 Instructions should
be specific, detailed, and transferable across health care settings,
and easily understood.73,74 There may be occasions where a clinician decides it is necessary to override a prior decision to withhold
CPR. Such circumstances might include a sudden arrest due to a
readily reversible cause (e.g., choking, blocked tracheal tube) or
where a patient is undergoing a specific procedure or general anaesthesia. Whenever possible such circumstances should be discussed
in advance with the patient to establish their prior wishes.
Determining when CPR is likely to be unsuccessful or, in other
words, futile, is often difficult. Two clinical decision rules have
been developed using data from the AHA Get with the Guidelines Programme (n > 50,000 cases). The first developed a flow
chart indicating the likelihood of survival to discharge with good
neurological function. In this model, admission from a nursing
facility with a cerebral performance category (CPC) of 2 or less
had a very low (2.3%) chance of survival after cardiac arrest, as
did admission from home or another hospital and a CPC score of
3 (2.2% survival).75 Other important predictors of poor outcome
were advancing age, presence of organ failure, malignancy and
hypotension. Absence of co-morbidities, presence of arrhythmias
and myocardial infarction were associated with better outcomes.
The Go-FAR score, produced by the same group uses 13 pre-arrest
variables to predict outcome.75 A low score predicted good outcome (27% favourable survival) whilst a high score predicted poor
outcome (0.8% favourable survival). Good neurological function at
admission predicted good outcome whilst major trauma, stroke,
malignancy, sepsis, non-cardiac medical admission, organ failure
and advancing age were key determinants of adverse outcomes.
Prediction studies are particularly dependent on system factors
such as time to start of CPR and time to defibrillation. These intervals may be prolonged in the total study cohort but may not be
applicable to an individual case.
Inevitably, judgements will have to be made based on all available information. Decisions should not be made based on a single
element, such as age.76 There will remain grey areas where judgement is required for individual patients.
It is difficult to define an optimal duration for resuscitation
attempts. In a further study from the AHA Get With The GuidelinesResuscitation (GWTG-R) registry, 88% of patients who achieved
sustained ROSC did so within 30 min.77 As a rule, resuscitation
should be continued as long as VF persists. Asystole for more than
20 min during ALS in the absence of a reversible cause is generally accepted as an indication to abandon further resuscitation
attempts. However, there are reports of exceptional cases that do
not support the general rule, and each case must be assessed individually.
Presently, there are no valid prognostication tools of poor outcome during the first few hours after ROSC. The prediction of final
neurological outcome in CA patients remaining comatose after
ROSC is generally unreliable during the first 3 days after CA and
until the first 2–3 days after termination of hypothermia.
Reliable prognostication of a poor outcome in comatose cardiac
arrest survivors supports discussions with relatives and decisions
to withdraw life-sustaining therapy. Guidelines for prognostication
in such patients are described in detail in the post resuscitation care
chapter of the 2015 ERC Guidelines.27
We should bear in mind that the implementation of a termination of resuscitation (ToR) protocol will inevitably introduce some
self-fulfilling prophecy and must be challenged periodically as new
The focus of most published studies has been on predicting poor
outcomes amongst comatose survivors of cardiac arrest. Future
research should also consider factors that would predict a good
outcome in order to inform treatment decisions and discussions
Out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA)
The decision to start or discontinue CPR is usually more challenging outside a hospital.78,79 Specific challenges include the lack
of sufficient, unequivocal information about a patient’s wishes and
values, comorbidities and baseline health status. Access to diagnostic tests to identify reversible causes is limited and teams in general
are small and in many countries only comprise emergency medical technicians or paramedics. Prognostic assessment in terms of
survival and subsequent quality of life carries a higher risk of bias
and thus injustice.80,81 Considering this and the proven correlation
between time to BLS or first shock and outcome, the default for
OHCA still needs to be to start CPR as soon as possible and address
questions later. Exceptions are the conditions that enable recognition of life extinct (ROLE), namely massive cranial and cerebral
destruction, decapitation, decomposition or putrefaction, incineration, dependent lividity (hypostasis) with rigor mortis, and foetal
maceration. In such cases, the non-physician might be making
a diagnosis of death but is not certifying death, which, in most
countries, can be done only by a physician.
CPR that has no chance of success in terms of survival or acceptable quality of life is pointless and may violate the right for mercy
and dignity in the face of death. Defining this ‘no chance of success’ is however very difficult and, in contrast to other medical
interventions, it has been argued that success rates of less than
1% still justify the resuscitation effort.78,81,82 Institutional guidelines for the Termination Of Resuscitation (ToR) in the pre-hospital
environment are very much needed to reduce unwanted variability
in this decision-making.
Several authors have developed and prospectively tested
unequivocal termination of resuscitation (ToR) rules. One prospective study demonstrated that a basic life support ToR rule was
100% predictive of death when applied by defibrillation-only
emergency medical technicians. Subsequent studies showed
external generalisability of this rule, but others challenged this.
The implementation of a ToR rule significantly reduced the rate of
transport of futile OHCA yet also led in two separate studies to an
unexpected survival of 3.4% and 9% respectively in OHCA patients
without pre-hospital sustained ROSC.
Some EMS systems use just that one component, the absence
of pre-hospital return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC), as the
criterion to terminate resuscitation and this clearly may exclude
potential survivors for transportation.78,83–87
Patients with refractory cardiac arrest, with ongoing CPR during
transport to hospital, used to have a very poor prognosis.88,89 In a
moving vehicle, manual CPR may be difficult and the use of mechanical devices may be considered. As advanced rescue therapies and
specific circumstances-related interventions become more widely
available and success rates are improving, defining which patients
might benefit from these becomes crucial. 90–92
Withholding or withdrawing CPR
Healthcare professionals should consider withholding or withdrawing CPR in children and adults when:
• the safety of the provider can no longer be sufficiently assured;
• there is obvious mortal injury or irreversible death [ROLE];
306 L.L. Bossaert et al. / Resuscitation 95 (2015) 302–311
• a valid and relevant advance directive becomes available;
• there is other strong evidence that further CPR would be against
patient’s values and preferences or is considered ‘futile’;
• asystole for more than 20 min despite ongoing ALS, in the absence
of a reversible cause.
After stopping CPR, the possibility of ongoing support of the circulation and transport to a dedicated centre in perspective of organ
donation should be considered.
Transport to hospital with ongoing CPR
Healthcare professionals should consider transport to hospital
with ongoing CPR when, in the absence of the above CPR withdrawal criteria, there is one or more of the following present:
• EMS witnessed arrest;
• ROSC at any moment;
• VT/VF as presenting rhythm;
• Presumed reversible cause (e.g., cardiac, toxic, hypothermia).
This decision should be considered early in the process e.g., after
10 min of ALS without ROSC and in view of the circumstances e.g.,
distance, CPR delay and presumed CPR quality in view of patient
characteristics e.g., presumed QoL.
Paediatric cardiac arrest
Despite differences in pathophysiology and aetiology, the ethical framework for decision-making in paediatric cardiac arrest does
not differ much from that described above.93,94 Most physicians
will err even more on the side of intervention in children for emotional reasons and continue a resuscitation attempt longer, despite
the overall prognosis in children often being worse than in adults.
It is therefore important for clinicians to understand the factors
that influence resuscitation success and the boundaries of the care
they provide. As in adult practice, futile resuscitation might be considered dysthanasia (merciless prolongation of life) and should be
avoided.81 The child’s best interest might sometimes conflict with
parent or guardian’s rights. From a societal perspective, we allow
parent’s decisions to differ from so-called best interest standards
as long as no unacceptable harm is done to the child. Extrapolating
this to the context of resuscitation, parent’s rights and decisionmaking might prevail up to the point where there would be harm.
Prolonged futile resuscitation could be an example of such harm.
Providing adequate information in a clear but empathic way is crucial for this decision-making process.
Most countries have procedures for medico-legal investigation
of Sudden Unexplained Death Of Infancy (SUDI). In many SUDI
cases no final cause is identified and death might be related to
an intrinsic vulnerability, developmental changes and environmental factors.95 Some deaths however might be caused by infection,
neuro-metabolic disease or by accidental or inflicted injury. In
most countries, legal authorities are involved in cases of sudden
unexplained or accidental death. In some countries systematic
review of all child deaths is organised to get a better understanding and knowledge for the prevention of future children’s
deaths.96 Although there are still major challenges, formal child
death reviews may contribute greatly to prevention, care delivered
and final outcome of paediatric cardiac arrest.
Some prehospital providers find it difficult to stop resuscitation once started and would argue for continuing CPR, especially
in young persons, until arrival to the hospital. Some defend this
practice on the ground that, at a certain point, the ‘best interest’
of the family might start to outweigh that of the patient.97,98 This
view is not supported by evidence. In the setting of post-traumatic
cardiac arrest it seemed that families of patients who die out-ofhospital adapt better to their losses when there is cessation of futile
resuscitative efforts in the field. 93 Performing futile CPR to address
the grief and needs of ‘significant others’ is ethically unsound, being
both deceptive and paternalistic.43
Likewise, certain authors argued in favour of a ‘slow code’ initiating some ‘symbolic’ resuscitation measures but unhurriedly or
omitting the most aggressive ones, sparing physician and family
the helpless feeling of doing nothing and avoiding potential conflict or the need to communicate bad news, especially in those
settings where there is no strong physician–patient relationship
and a clear lack of information.43 This ‘slow code’ is equally deceptive and paternalistic, and undermines both the patient–physician
relationship and the training and education of our teams.93
A valuable alternative may be a ‘tailored code’, where high quality resuscitation is performed but clear limits are defined. Family
members are informed in a transparent way what will be done and
Safety of the healthcare provider is vitally important. Infectious disease epidemics have raised concerns about the safety of
healthcare providers involved in the care of cardiac arrest patients.
Specific attention to the use of proper protective equipment is
essential, especially when there is insufficient information about a
patient’s history and potential infectious state. To date there is little information about the precise risk of transmission when doing
CPR on an infectious patient, and as such – if properly protected –
providers should attempt resuscitation in these patients. Possible
exemptions to this standard rule would be those infections or situations where a clear danger remains for the healthcare provider,
even when protected. In these cases the provider’s own safety
would be priority. When attempting CPR in infectious patients’
healthcare professionals must use proper protective equipment
and be sufficiently trained in its use.101,102
Resuscitation after suicide attempts
A person with mental illness is not necessarily considered mentally incompetent and may have an equal right to reject medical
treatment and opt for palliative care. Based on the concept of
autonomy, one could argue that a suicide attempt may in itself be
an expression of personal preferences. In an emergency it is difficult to assess mental capacity reliably even if a suicide note is
found. Given that non-treatment leads to serious harm, the default
remains to start CPR as soon as possible and address potential issues
The primary goal of resuscitation is to save the patient’s life.105
Nonetheless, resuscitation efforts may result in brain death. In these
cases, the aim of resuscitation could change to the preservation of
organs for possible donation.106 Several studies have shown that
the outcome of organs transplanted from patients who received
CPR and are brain dead is not different from the outcomes of organs
transplanted from patients who have been pronounced brain dead
from other causes (see section on Post Resuscitation Care).107–109
However, the duty of resuscitation teams for the living patient
should not be confused with the duty of physicians for the dead
donors, where the organs are preserved to save other people’s lives.
On the other hand, it is reasonable to suggest that all European
countries should enhance their efforts to maximise the possibility
of organ donation from cardiac arrest patients who became brain
L.L. Bossaert et al. / Resuscitation 95 (2015) 302–311 307
dead or after stopping resuscitation in case of CPR failure.110 Procedures should ensure that any possible interference of the transplant
team in the decision making of the resuscitation team is avoided.
Variability in ethical CPR practices in Europe
Ten years after a report by Baskett and Lim,111 opinion leaders representing 32 European countries where the activities of
the European Resuscitation Council are organised, have responded
to questions regarding local ethical legislation and practice of
resuscitation, and organisation of out-of-hospital and in-hospital
resuscitation services. The survey methods and results are detailed
and discussed elsewhere.
The survey showed that there is still a wide variability in the
implementation of ethical practices in European countries.
Equal access to emergency care and to early defibrillation is now
well established: the first attending ambulance arrives at the scene
within 10 min in the majority of countries (18/32 in rural areas and
24/32 in urban areas). Defibrillation by the first attending ambulance is available in 29/32 countries.
The principle of patient autonomy is now legally supported in
the majority of countries (advance directives in 20 countries and
DNAR in 22 countries).
However, areas for improvement were identified: in less than
half of countries family members are usually allowed to be present
during CPR (adult in 10/32 and children in 13/32 countries). This
has not substantially changed in the last 10 years.
At this time euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are controversial subjects in many European countries and the discussion
is ongoing in several European countries.
Certain forms of treatment limitations such as withholding CPR
are allowed (19 countries) and practiced (21 countries) in most
Harmonisation of legislation relating to resuscitation and endof-life would further support ethical practices.
Healthcare professionals should know and apply the established
national and local legislation and policies.
Family presence during resuscitation
Since the 1980s, the concept of a family member being present
at the resuscitation process became an accepted practice in many
countries.112–116 The majority of relatives and parents who were
present during resuscitation attempts would wish to be so again.113
A recent European survey reported that in only 31% of countries
family members are usually allowed to be present during inhospital resuscitation attempts of an adult and only slightly more
if the victim was a child (41%).
The ERC supports relatives being offered the choice to be present
during a resuscitation attempt whilst cultural and social variations
must be understood and appreciated with sensitivity. Observing
the resuscitation attempt may provide benefit to family members by reducing guilt or disappointment, allowing time to accept
the reality of death and help the grieving process. When possible,
an experienced member of staff should facilitate and support the
relative during the resuscitation attempt.114,115 Family presence
during resuscitation attempts will contribute to an increasingly
open attitude and appreciation of the autonomy of both patient and
relatives.111,112 No data support the concerns that family members
may be traumatised witnessing CPR, or may interfere with medical care procedures.117 We should focus our efforts on working
together with the survivors of cardiac arrest, family members and
the public as partners in the co-production of future guidance.
Bringing bad news and bereavement counselling
A multidisciplinary approach to the care at the end of life, including communication, taking into account cultural, social, emotional,
religious, spiritual preferences and local differences needs further
development and implementation in healthcare systems worldwide.
Compassionate communication with patients and loved ones is
essential when dealing with end of-life-care. The aim is to understand the patient’s goals and expectations of medical treatment to
support the individual choice of the best care. Some patients wish
to prolong life as long as possible, while others value dignity and
pain relief even at the expense of a potentially shortened lifetime.
Privacy and adequate time are essential for good communication
about life values and significant decisions.118
Multidisciplinary bereavement programs are beneficial to families of patients who die in the emergency department.119 The
grieving process may be supported by allowing unrestricted visiting, provision of clear verbal and written information, providing
the opportunity to visit the deceased and facilitating religious
procedures.120,121 Patients and their beloved ones deserve respect.
Clinicians should be honest about what can and cannot be
achieved. Sharing the truth of the situation can act as a symbolic
expression of a complex set of commitments.29 This will allow the
patients to make informed decisions about the choices available to
them at the end of their lives.
Documentation of DNAR order in the patient’s chart
DNAR decisions and discussions relating to DNAR should be
recorded clearly in the patient’s notes.72,73,122,123 Whatever system is used it must be highly visible in order to inform personnel
on the spot.
Over time the situation or the perspectives of patients might
change and DNAR orders should be revised accordingly.124 Exemptions from DNAR order should be clearly specified (e.g., cardiac
arrest complicating diagnostic procedures, such as allergic shock
due to radiology dye or intracardiac catheter investigation) to
ensure the patient will receive appropriate treatment.
Training, research and audit
It is the individual responsibility of healthcare professionals
to maintain their knowledge, understanding and skills related to
resuscitation. Their knowledge about relevant national legal and
organisational policies in their country should be kept up to date.
Improving public education regarding Cardiopulmonary
The shift from medical-centred to patient-centred practice constitutes a major ethical development. This requires that the patient
is aware (and not misinformed) of the true limitations and possible
outcomes of resuscitation.125–127 Lay people may have unrealistic expectations from CPR128,129 and exposure to realistic outcome
data may affect personal preferences.130
Training health care professionals about DNAR issues
Healthcare professionals should receive training about the legal
and ethical basis of DNAR decisions and about how to communicate
effectively with patients, relatives or next of kin. Quality of life,
supportive care and end-of-life decisions need to be explained as
an integrative part of the medical and nursing practice.131 Training
308 L.L. Bossaert et al. / Resuscitation 95 (2015) 302–311
will need to be sensitive to personal, moral and religious beliefs and
Practicing procedures on the recently dead
There is a wide diversity of opinion about practicing on the
newly dead ranging from complete non-acceptance because of
an innate respect for the deceased132 to the acceptance of noninvasive procedures not leaving major marks.133 Others accept
training of any procedure on dead bodies and justify skills training
as paramount for the well-being of future patients.134–137
Healthcare students and teaching professionals are advised to
learn and follow the established legal, regional and local hospital
Research and informed consent
Research in the field of resuscitation is necessary to test
commonly used interventions with uncertain efficacy or new
potentially beneficial treatments.138,139 To include participants in
a study, informed consent must be obtained. In emergencies, there
is often insufficient time to obtain informed consent. Deferred
consent or exception to informed consent with prior community
consultation, are considered ethically acceptable alternatives for
respecting autonomy.140,141 Following 12 years of ambiguity, a
new European Union (EU) Regulation permitting deferred consent
is expected to harmonise and foster emergency research across
Member States.139,140,142,143 Further regulatory improvements are
needed for emergency surgical research 144 and for researching
non-medicinal interventions.139 Despite this progress, regulations
still need to converge at an international level to harmonise multinational emergency research.145
Audit of in-hospital cardiac arrests and registry analyses
Local CPR management can be improved through post-CPR
debriefing and feedback to ensure a PDCA (plan-do-checkact) circle of quality improvement. Debriefing and feedback
enables identification of CPR quality errors and prevents their
repetition.146–148 Submission of CPR data to national audits and/or
international registries has led to outcome-prediction models,
which may facilitate advance care planning149–153, and to quantification of the frequency of resuscitation system errors and
their impact on in-hospital mortality.154 Data from registries have
shown significant improvements in cardiac arrest outcomes from
2000 to 2010.3,155–157
Published evidence suggests that resuscitation team-based
infrastructure and multilevel institutional audit,158 accurate
reporting54 of resuscitation attempts at national audit level
and/or multinational registry level, and subsequent data analysis
and feedback from reported results may contribute to continuous improvement of in-hospital CPR quality and cardiac arrest
Marios Georgiou, American Medical Center, University of Nikosia,
Freddy K. Lippert, Emergency Medical Services Copenhagen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Petter A. Steen, University of Oslo, Oslo University Hospital Ulleval,
Conflicts of interest
Leo L. Bossaert No conflict of interest reported
Gavin D. Perkins Editor Resuscitation
Helen Askitopoulou No conflict of interest reported
Jerry P. Nolan Editor-in-Chief Resuscitation
Kirstie L. Haywood No conflict of interest reported
Patrick Van de Voorde No conflict of interest reported
Robert Greif No conflict of interest reported
Spyros D. Mentzelopoulos No conflict of interest reported
Violetta I. Raffay No conflict of interest reported
Theodoros T. Xanthos President Hellenic Society CPR
www.EEKA.gr, Lab research
grants ELPEN Pharma
The authors thank Hilary Phelan for her professional support
in preparing the on-line questionnaire for the European Survey on
Ethical Practices and for organising the data in a dedicated database.
The authors thank all contributors to the European Survey on
Ethical Practices: M. Baubin, A. Caballero, P. Cassan, G. Cebula, A.
Certug, D. Cimpoesu, S. Denereaz, C. Dioszeghy, M. Filipovic, Z. Fiser,
M. Georgiou, E. Gomez, P. Gradisel, JT. Gräsner, R. Greif, H. Havic, S.
Hoppu, S. Hunyadi, M. Ioannides, J. Andres, J. Joslin, D. Kiss, J. Köppl,
P. Krawczyk, K. Lexow, F. Lippert, S. Mentzelopoulos, P. Mols, N.
Mpotos, P. Mraz, V. Nedelkovska, H. Oddsson, D. Pitcher, V. Raffay,
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