RCUK press statement in response to Sky News’ Coronavirus: Deciding Who Dies broadcast

It was heartbreaking to watch the stories of families who were faced with unexpected discussions about whether or not a loved one should be resuscitated during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic on tonight’s Sky News documentary ‘Deciding Who Dies’. 

Resuscitation Council UK believes in the importance of personalised emergency care planning and decision making around cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Any such discussions and decisions should be handled sensitively and follow well established processes. That is why we have worked so hard over recent years to develop the ReSPECT process and to get it adopted across the health and social care system in a number of geographic areas.

While we appreciate that over the last few months the COVID-19 pandemic has put unprecedented strains on the UK’s health and social care system, we do not condone a blanket approach to decisions on whether or not to attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation in an emergency.

The ethical and legal principles set out in ‘Decisions relating to cardiopulmonary resuscitation’ remain valid. All conversations and decisions are individual to the person involved. We encourage people to have discussions in advance. The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt made many people contemplate their mortality and whether or not they would want to receive treatment in various different scenarios. Such consideration and decision making is important to guiding the medical team having to make rapid decisions in a future emergency, when a person may be too unwell to make choices about their treatment.   

Everybody is individual. The prospects of survival in an emergency are determined by a combination of the seriousness of any pre-existing conditions, reason behind the need for emergency treatment, their frailty and age. This combination will vary uniquely from person to person and it is important choice sits at the heart of decision making.