As It Happens

Many dying hospital patients marked for CPR, even if they don't want it

A study by a doctor at Queen's University shows a need for better communication between patients and medical staff about end-of-life care.
(Dr. Daren Heyland / Reuters )

Many critically ill hospital patients would rather not have aggressive medical interventions, such as CPR, at the end of their lives. But a new study shows that in Canada, their wishes often don't match up with patients' hospital charts.

"Patients are asking for one type of treatment, and being signed up for another," says the study's author Dr. Daren Heyland, a professor of medicine at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.

Dr. Heyland asked a group of elderly Canadians in hospital if they wished to receive treatments, including CPR, at the end of their lives. He compared their responses to the orders in their hospital charts. 

"More than a third of the time there was disagreement, where the patient was saying, 'keep me comfortable' and yet the patient was signed up for CPR," he tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

"We are not really providing patient-centred care if we're over-treating them at the end of life."

Dr. Heyland says hospitals need to make sure patients are consulted, and patients, and their families, need to know how to make it clear if they do not want to be resuscitated. His study is published in the journal, BMJ Quality and Safety. 

He says he's been contacted by frustrated family members after relatives received aggressive and unwanted treatment before they died. 

"They all wanted comfort measures and mom or grandma underwent CPR or went to the intensive care unit...and months later they phone me or write to me and say things like 'why did that have to happen?'"


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