"I don't think people understand how brutal CPR is and how brutal resuscitating someone is."

The survival rate can be as little as 15%.

It’s an idea most of us would take for granted. If you were unconscious, if you’d stopped breathing, you would want someone to use CPR. You would want them to resuscitate you.

Wouldn’t you?

On last night’s episode of Insight on SBS, Jenny Brockie, along with a panel of experts and members of the studio audience discussed the notion that CPR  is not always the best option.

CPR success rates
“I don’t think people understand how brutal CPR is.” (Image via SBS: Insight)

There is the risk of broken bones, and a likelihood of severe bruising, but Dr Charlie Corke told, those should be at the bottom of our list of concerns. 

What I would worry about a great deal more is brain damage,” he said. “The brain doesn’t get blood to do it and a significant number of people who arrest come out with significant brain damage and that scares people much more.”

You can watch a teaser from the program below:

Video via Insight SBS

But not all people.

Audience member Mike had his spleen removed due to a clotting disorder. When in recovery he developed a reaction to his pain medication. Mike died for 3-4 minutes. “My wife came into the room and found me blue,” he said. She began chest compressions, before the medical staff took over. They successfully resuscitated Mike, and he has no doubt that they did the right thing. As a CPR trainer himself, Mike puts the ordeal down to a “experiential learning exercise.”

Diana, another audience member advocated for CPR under any circumstance. “Life is so valuable,” she said. “The most valuable thing there is. I just don’t think there would be a situation where I wouldn’t want to be resuscitated.” A viewpoint shared by 94-year-old Zara. “I find everyday… something pleasant happens to me… I would like CPR. I would like to keep going.”


But as emergency nurse Zena explained, the process can be brutal. “I don’t think people understand how brutal CPR is and how brutal resuscitating someone is. You feel like you’re crushing that persons chest… You do break ribs.”

For those working in the medical industry, performing life-saving techniques on a severely ill or frail individuals can also be emotionally taxing. “You’re resuscitating this person knowing they’re probably not going to make it in the end,” said Zena. “It’s very, very upsetting.”

There is then the potential for patients to be resuscitated, to live with a lower quality of life. For audience member Leanne, that’s enough to turn her off the idea of CPR completely. If she were to be resuscitated to live with a lower quality of live? “Thanks, but lights out for me.”

CPR is not an option for audience member Leanne. (Image via SBS: Insight)

Jess Holmes’ three-year-old son Henry suffered severe cerebral palsy, and after an episode of accute illness, she was forced to consider the possibility of a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order.

“It’s not about me its not about whether I’ll cope with the grief of losing my child, it’s about him.” Henry passed away at the age of 6-and-a-half.

Dr Charlie Corke states that “CPR can be remarkably effective. But everything good has a bad side.” And unfortunately, there is not a lot of understanding as to what the potential consequences are.

Which is exactly why he and fellow medical professionals on the Insight panel urged families to have the discussion, taking into account their personal situation, and the potential consequences, to reach the best decision for them.

“This is a choice for people. If they want it it’s there for them.”

Have you had the discussion with your family? Would you sign a DNR directive?