Ethical Issues of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation: Comparison of Emergency Physician Practices from 1995 to 2007

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Objectives:  The objectives were to determine current practice among emergency physicians (EPs) regarding the initiation and termination of cardiopulmonary resuscitative (CPR) efforts and to compare responses to those from a similar study performed in 1996.

Methods:  This anonymous self-administered survey was mailed to 4,991 randomly selected EPs. Main outcome measures included responses regarding current practices related to advance directives and initiation and termination of resuscitative attempts. Results from 1995 and 2007 surveys were compared, using 95% confidence intervals (CIs) of the difference between groups.

Results:  Among 928 respondents (18% response rate), most (86%) honor legal advance directives, an increase over 78% reported in 1996 (8% increase, 95% CI = 5% to 11%). Few honor unofficial documents (7%) or verbal reports (12%) of advance directives. Many (58%) make decisions regarding resuscitation because of fear of litigation or criticism. Most respondents (62%) attempt resuscitation in 10% or more of cases of cardiac arrest. A majority (56%) have attempted more than 10 resuscitations in the past 3 years, despite expectations that such efforts would be futile. Factors reported to be “very important” in making resuscitation decisions were advance directives (78%), witnessed arrest (77%), downtime (73%), family wishes (40%), presenting rhythm (38%), age (28%), and prearrest state of health (25%). A significant majority of respondents (80%) indicated that ideally, legal concerns should not influence physician practices regarding resuscitation, but that in the current environment, legal concerns do influence practice (92%). Other than the increase in respondents who honor legal advance directives, these results do not differ substantially from responses in 1996.

Conclusions:  Most EPs attempt to resuscitate patients in cardiopulmonary arrest regardless of poor outcomes, except in cases where a legal advance directive is available. Many EPs’ decisions regarding resuscitation are based on concerns of litigation and criticism, rather than professional judgment of medical benefit. Most results did not differ significantly from the previous study of 1995, although more physicians honor legal advance directives than previously noted.