Between life and death: should family witness resuscitation?

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  • Jana says:

    Having worked in obstetrics and having to resuscitate neonates at the time of delivery there was never an option whether the parents were present or not. With that said there was never a question of “what happened?” When the resuscitation was not successful the feedback was typically “we know you did everything you could.”

  • Valerie says:

    Just a comment that this adds more stress to the focused health care resuscitation team
    I do agree in total awareness and visibility. Many procedures such as tracheotomies, opening chest wounds to manually compress and your clamp bleeders, other wounds etc are very traumatic for the family
    It is extremely difficult to do these procedures in the rather emergent situations with any decorum or discussion to the family.

  • Lisa Bitonti-Bengert, RN says:

    This is a great debate question. As an RN who practiced predominantly in oncology, resuscitation events were relatively uncommon, though more common than one would think. When careful and thoughtful Advanced Care Planning took place, where patients and families were able to make an informed decision and educated on the mechanics of resuscitation, FWR was encouraged by the team (well at least most members) and welcomed by the family. In my own practice, when I knew that ACP had not happened, I would do my best to walk families through the controlled chaos (as described by one patient) and they too found that comforting. Fast forward to my own personal experience—my dad fell off the roof of the house, had a catastrophic injuries, lost a lot of blood but managed to hold on long enough to get to the hospital where they miraculously stabilized him long enough for me to make it up north–I was three hours away when I got the call. All I could do while we were driving up is try to arrange care while they were stabilizing him and try to be daughter and nurse at the same time–doing the best for my dad and walking my mom through what was happening drawing on informal advanced care planning discussions we had as a family over the years. As we were finalizing transportation to neurotrauma services, dad suffered cardiac arrest. The team called my mom and me into the room, and the doctor explained what was happening and quickly asked whether we wanted resuscitation. I could see my mom’s confusion and I went straight into “nurse” mode explaining exactly what happens (while they started in the background), not mincing words—all the information in as a straight forward manner as I could muster, for her to make a decision. For her it was easy–she didn’t want to watch that but more importantly she knew my dad’s wishes (as did I) and was able to make a decision. So moral of my story—good ACP early in life (not just when disease sets in) certainly helps whether resuscitation is the plan or not. If it is, asking families, supporting them, telling them exactly what happens–everything mentioned in this article–is the way to go.

    • Samuel Vaillancourt says:

      Thanks for your post Lisa and sharing your story. You make a very good point that discussing end-of-life before catastrophic injuries or illness sets in makes for much better experience. After all, it is inevitably part of everybody’s life.


Matthew Piaseczny


Matthew Piaseczny is a medical student at the University of Toronto with interest in emergency and critical care medicine.

Samuel Vaillancourt


Samuel Vaillancourt is a specialist emergency physician and trauma team leader practicing at St. Michael’s Hospital and an associate scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute.

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