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Decisions relating to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

In brief

This guidance offers in-depth advice on cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the relevant ethical principles involved.

Some of the key sections are listed below:

  • Decision-making framework
  • Advance care planning
  • Non-discrimination
  • Human Rights Act
  • Decisions not to attempt CPR because it will not be successful
  • Decisions about CPR that are based on a balance of benefits and burdens
  • Circumstances when a CPR decision may not be followed
  • Initial presumption in favour of CPR when there is no recorded CPR decision
  • Refusals of CPR by adults with capacity
  • Adults who lack capacity
  • Children and young people under 18 years of age
  • Confidentiality
  • Provision of information in printed and other formats for patients and those close to patients
  • Responsibility for decision-making
  • Recording decisions
  • Communicating decisions to other healthcare providers
  • Reviewing decisions
  • Standards, audit and training


In detail

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was introduced in the 1960s as a treatment to try to re-start the heart when people suffer a sudden cardiac arrest from a heart attack from which they would otherwise make a good recovery. Since then, attempts at CPR have become more widespread in other clinical situations.

CPR involves chest compressions, delivery of high-voltage electric shocks across the chest, attempts to ventilate the lungs and injection of drugs. The likelihood of recovery varies greatly according to individual circumstances; the average proportion of people who survive following CPR is relatively low. Unfortunately, expectation of the likely success of CPR is often unrealistic.

Attempting CPR carries a risk of unwanted adverse effects, which some people do not wish to take, especially if their individual likelihood of benefit from CPR is very low and likelihood of harm substantial. When the heart stops because a person is dying from an irreversible condition, attempting CPR will not prevent death; for some it may prolong or increase suffering.

Healthcare professionals are aware that conversations about dying, and about whether or not CPR will be attempted are very sensitive and potentially distressing. As a consequence there has been stand-alone professional guidance on CPR decision-making since the 1990's.

This latest 2016 revision of guidance is in response to public and professional debate about CPR decisions, and to recent statutory changes and legal judgments.

The key ethical and legal principles that should inform all CPR decisions remain, but even greater emphasis has been placed on ensuring high-quality timely communication, decision-making and recording in relation to decisions about CPR.


Download the full guidance


Recommended Summary Plan for Emergency Care and Treatment (ReSPECT)

The Recommended Summary Plan for Emergency Care and Treatment (ReSPECT) is a process and form which records recommendations to guide immediate decision-making about a person’s care and treatment, including CPR, in a future emergency situation where they lack capacity.

It has been developed by a Working Group made up of members of the public and professional organisations. The British Medical Association [BMA], Resuscitation Council (UK) [RC (UK)] and Royal College of Nursing [RCN] have each been represented on the ReSPECT Working Group and contributed to the development of ReSPECT.

ReSPECT has now been made available for adoption by health and social care communities in the UK.

The ethical and legal principles that underpin the guidance in Decisions relating to cardiopulmonary resuscitation remain the same and are valid also for the ReSPECT process.

Further information about ReSPECT is available at


Attempting CPR in nursing homes

The Nursing and Midwifery Council recently heard a case involving a decision not to attempt CPR in a nursing home.

Our joint statement between the BMA, Resuscitation Council (UK) (RC (UK)) and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) reconfirms the ethical and legal principles that should inform all CPR decisions.

Read the full statement