Is a Nurse Obligated to Perform CPR?

Carolyn Buppert, NP, JD


March 26, 2013

In This Article
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A nurse called 911 to report that a resident of a senior living facility had collapsed. She declined to begin CPR, citing the facility's policy. Was she in the wrong?

Response from Carolyn Buppert, NP, JD
Attorney, Law Office of Carolyn Buppert P.C., Bethesda, Maryland

"Sorry, I Can't Give CPR"

In February, a nurse made national news for refusing to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on an 87-year-old woman who collapsed in the dining room of the retirement community where she lived.

News stories featured audio of a fire department dispatcher in Bakersfield, California, pleading with a staff member -- who described herself as a nurse -- at a senior living facility.[1] The nurse had called 911. The nurse said that the woman wasn't breathing, and the dispatcher told her to start CPR. The staff member refused, saying that the facility had a policy directing staff to call 911 and stay with the individual but not perform CPR. When the dispatcher pleaded with the nurse to ask a bystander to perform CPR, she responded, "I understand. I am a nurse but I can't have our other senior citizens, who don't know CPR, do it. We are in a dining room."[2] The dispatcher argued with the nurse for 7 minutes. No CPR was given and the woman died.

Later reports said the "nurse" wasn't practicing as a nurse but as an administrator. The family of the deceased woman said that their relative didn't want intervention, and they were not planning to complain about the facility's handling of the matter. The facility did not have a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order on the woman.

What is the responsibility of the facility? What is the responsibility of a nurse working at such a facility? What is the responsibility of a nurse who is not working as a nurse but as an administrator? For nurses, this case raises the following question: If a facility's policy is contrary to general medical practice, general ethical principles, and/or the legal requirements of a nurse, should a nurse follow the policy or do what he or she thinks is appropriate?