Betting on CPR: A modern version of Pascal's Wager

David Y. Harari, Robert C. MacAuley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many patients believe that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is more likely to be successful than it really is in clinical practice. Even when working with accurate information, some nevertheless remain resolute in demanding maximal treatment. They maintain that even if survival after cardiac arrest with CPR is extremely low, the fact remains that it is still greater than the probability of survival after cardiac arrest without CPR (ie, zero). Without realising it, this line of reasoning is strikingly similar to Pascal's Wager, a Renaissance-era argument for accepting the proposition for God's existence. But while the original argument is quite logical - if not universally compelling - the modern variant makes several erroneous assumptions. The authors here present a case of a patient who unwittingly appeals to Pascal's Wager to explain his request for maximal treatment, in order to highlight the crucial divergences from the original Wager. In understanding the faulty assumptions inherent in the application of Pascal's Wager to code status decisions - and identifying the underlying motivations which the Wager serves to confirm - providers can better ensure that the true values and preferences of patients are upheld.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)110-113
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of medical ethics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • CPR
  • DNR
  • Pascal's Wager
  • code status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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