Below are some commonly used methods of life support, along with a values statement you can use to help clarify your own thinking. (We do not support one decision over another. We offer these simply as a way to help you think about the issues and put your own feelings into words.)
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR): Many of us have seen television dramas in which the health care team uses electric shock or pounding on the chest to stimulate the heart to resume beating. This is definitely a life-saving technique, and in the context of a generally healthy person who suddenly has a heart attack, it can result in years or even decades of healthy, active living. In the context of chronic or terminal illness, however, studies indicate that only about 15 percent of people advanced in age or illness leave the hospital alive after CPR. In other words, 85 percent die in spite of receiving CPR. Those people who do get CPR and survive often suffer from broken ribs as a result of the process. Although CPR could mean the difference between life and death, it is not a gentle procedure and could well be a traumatic way to die if a person is already near the end of life.
"Given the statistics about CPR, I only want it if I have a reasonable chance of recovery to a healthy state. For instance, if I have a sudden heart attack but have been healthy enough to lead a fairly functional life, do CPR. If I am debilitated by cancer, however, and my heart stops, do not do CPR."