The Hidden Harms of CPR

August 8, 2023
3 Min
Dr. Michael Madison, CEO

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a life-saving procedure that has been used for decades to help people who have gone into cardiac arrest. However, a growing body of research suggests that CPR may not be as effective as we once thought, and that it can cause significant harm to patients.

In a recent essay for The New Yorker, bioethicist Nancy Jecker argues that CPR is often overused, and that it can lead to several negative consequences, including:

  • Pain and suffering. CPR can be a very painful procedure, and it can cause broken rib and other injuries.
  • Brain damage. If CPR is not successful in restarting the heart, the patient may suffer brain damage due to lack of oxygen.
  • Infection. CPR can spread germs, and it can increase the risk of infection.
  • Financial burden. CPR is a costly procedure, and it can put a financial strain on patients and their families.

Jecker also points out that CPR is not always effective. In fact, only about one in ten people who receive CPR survive to be discharged from the hospital. And even for those who do survive, the quality of their life may be significantly diminished.

For all these reasons, Jecker argues that we need to be more careful about when we use CPR. She suggests that we should only use it on patients who have a good chance of survival and who are likely to benefit from the procedure. We also need to make sure that patients and their families are fully informed about the risks and benefits of CPR before it is performed.

The debate over the use of CPR is likely to continue, but we need to be more aware of the potential harms of this procedure. We need to weigh the risks and benefits carefully before deciding whether to use CPR on a patient. And we need to make sure that patients and their families are fully informed about the procedure so that they can make an informed decision about whether to consent to it.

In addition to the risks and harms mentioned by Jecker, it is important to note that CPR can also be traumatic for bystanders who witness it. Seeing someone go through CPR can be a very frightening experience, and it can leave people with lasting psychological scars.

For all these reasons, it is important to think carefully about the use of CPR when creating your advance care plan. It is a life-saving procedure, but it is not without risks and harms. We need to make sure that we are using it appropriately and that we are fully informed about the potential consequences. Talking with your providers and healthcare agent about your CPR choices before they are faced with deciding without your consent is crucial.