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The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Volume 17, Issue 2, Summer 2017

Marissa L. Mullins
Pages 235-245

When Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Becomes Harmful

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is a standard emergency medical procedure. Since its inception in the late 1960s, CPR has been performed on patients unless they or their proxies refuse it. However, like all medical inter­ventions, CPR has its benefits, risks, and consequences. Although the expected benefits of the procedure often outweigh its potential harm, CPR is not always clinically appropriate, especially for the dying, who have a very small statistical chance of surviving the intervention. Just as antibiotics are not prescribed for viruses and surgeries and treatments are withheld when clinically inappropri­ate, CPR should not be offered as a clinical treatment when it has a very low probability of success and is thought to be futile. Health care providers have an ethical and moral responsibility to withhold clinically inappropriate CPR, even when patients or their proxies request the procedure.