What is Life-sustaining treatment?

Life-sustaining treatment is any medical treatment that is intended to prolong or sustain your life. A refusal of all life-sustaining treatment means a refusal of all medical treatments, procedures and interventions aimed at prolonging or sustaining your life.

Here are some examples of life-sustaining treatment:

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It is an emergency attempt to restart a person’s heart and/or breathing if they have a cardiac arrest. CPR is used to keep the person alive while the cause of the cardiac arrest is found and treated if possible.

CPR can include:
  • Chest compressions (repeatedly pushing very firmly on the chest in an attempt to pump blood around the body)
  • Defibrillation (using electric shocks to correct irregularities in the heart’s rhythm)
  • Artificially inflating the lungs (by inserting a tube into the windpipe or by placing an oxygen mask over the mouth and nose, to push air into the lungs)
  • Intravenous medication (administering medications such as adrenaline into a vein to improve heart muscle contraction and blood pressure)

CPR success rates vary depending on how well you are in the moments before your heart and/or breathing stop, and how quickly you receive medical treatment. Following CPR a few people make a full recovery, some will still be very unwell and need more treatment, some will never get back to the level of health they had before, and most will not survive.

Mechanical or artificial ventilation
Receiving mechanical or artificial ventilation means being put on a ventilator machine that helps you to breathe if you cannot do so on your own. Ventilators are also known as respirators or life-support machines.
Clinically assisted nutrition and hydration
If you cannot swallow, you may be given a liquid that contains the nutrition or hydration that you need. This can be given through an intravenous drip (directly into a vein), a tube through the nose or a tube directly into the stomach (sometimes known as a PEG feed).
Antibiotics can be a life-sustaining treatment if they are for a life-threatening infection. These types of infections (for example, pneumonia) are more common when someone is very ill, for example if they have advanced cancer or have had a stroke. Antibiotics can be given through an intravenous drip (directly into a vein) or by mouth as a tablet or liquid.