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Ann Intern Med. 2006 May 2;144(9):634-40.

Withholding resuscitation: a new approach to prehospital end-of-life decisions.

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  • 1King County Medic One and Kent Fire Department, Kent, Washington, USA.



Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel often are not permitted to honor requests to withhold resuscitation at the end of life, particularly if there is no written do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order.


To determine whether EMS personnel from agencies implementing new guidelines would be more likely to withhold resuscitation from persons having out-of-hospital cardiac arrests than would personnel from agencies that did not implement the guidelines.


Observational study in which 16 of 35 local EMS agencies volunteered to implement new guidelines for withholding resuscitation.


King County, Washington.


2770 patients with EMS-attended cardiac arrest.


New guidelines adopted by participating agencies permitted EMS personnel to withhold resuscitation if the patient had a terminal condition and if the patient, family, or caregivers indicated, in writing or verbally, that no resuscitation was desired.


Proportion of resuscitations withheld in agencies that implemented new guidelines compared with those that did not.


Emergency medical services personnel from agencies implementing new guidelines withheld resuscitation in 11.8% of patients (99 of 841 patients) having cardiac arrests, compared with an average of 5.3% (range, 4.2% to 5.9%) of patients (103 of 1929 patients) in 3 historical and contemporary control groups. Honoring verbal requests alone accounted for 53% of withheld resuscitations in the intervention group (52 of 99 patients) compared with an average of 8% (range, 7% to 9%) in the control groups (8 of 103 patients).


The study was not a randomized, controlled trial; individual agencies chose whether to implement the guidelines.


Implementation of new guidelines was associated with an increase in the number of resuscitations withheld by EMS personnel. This increase was primarily due to honoring verbal requests.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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