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What Is a Heroic Measure?

Andrew Kirmayer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A heroic measure is a medical procedure that is generally performed to save a patient’s life, while having potentially harmful consequences. Such an action is often high risk compared to most medical interventions. It is usually performed when someone is at risk of losing their life due to an accident or even an illness. Gun shot and car accident victims sometimes require heroic measures to survive their injuries. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) is one type of heroic measure that can restore heart beat and breathing.

The reasons for a heroic measure typically include more immediate concerns than most medical emergencies. Cardiac arrest or a stroke can require intervention that is often traumatic, such as the performing of a thoracotomy. If an injury is severe enough and the heart has stopped, doctors sometimes open up the chest and stimulate the heart directly. The risks of invasive surgery and possibly causing more damage are often high in this case. Even types of heroic measures as common as CPR can be risky; the force of performing chest compressions is often strong enough to break ribs.

Heroic measures can include various types of emergency trauma surgery, amputations at the scene of an accident, or administering high doses of medication. Certain antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs given at high levels can cause side effects that put someone’s life at risk. Most patients who undergo a heroic measure are severely injured, ill, or otherwise stand a chance of dying if no treatment is performed. Blood loss and internal damage, however, sometimes make survival unlikely.

Hospitals usually have policies regarding heroic measures. Some people have ethical concerns about some medical actions, while legal issues can arise if families do not think the hospital did enough to save someone’s life. There is often the option to sign a form that typically prevents physicians from performing a heroic measure if one is necessary. If the patient loses their life under hospital care, such a document usually removes any legal liabilities from the hospital.

A critically ill person can write out the treatment they wish to receive. The guidelines can provide details on medical decisions before a major problem occurs, so family members and doctors can know beforehand whether the patient wants to receive a heroic measure or not, for example. Medical intervention that often falls in the category also usually includes the use of artificial breathing machines, tubes for food and fluids, and other machinery that can restart the heart.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Andrew Kirmayer
By Andrew Kirmayer , Former Writer
Andrew Kirmayer, a freelance writer with his own online writing business, creates engaging content across various industries and disciplines. With a degree in Creative Writing, he is skilled at writing compelling articles, blogs, press releases, website content, web copy, and more, all with the goal of making the web a more informative and engaging place for all audiences.

Discussion Comments

By browncoat — On Feb 03, 2015

@Ana1234 - I'd still rather have someone who didn't know exactly what they were doing perform the Heimlich on me than have no one intervene at all if I was choking.

I'm not sure if it's high risk enough to count as a heroic measure anyway. You aren't really pressing down on the rib cage or doing anything that could seriously hurt someone.

By Ana1234 — On Feb 02, 2015

@pleonasm - I believe more and more places are trying to put laws in place that will protect medical professionals who help out in emergency situations like that from legal repercussions.

It's important to note that these legal protections would only apply to someone who knew what they were doing and did it properly though.

I think half the population believe they can do CPR or other heroic measures like the Heimlich Maneuver because they've seen it on TV. Someone like that is definitely going to do more harm than good.

By pleonasm — On Feb 01, 2015

Another problem that often faces doctors and other medical professionals is that they run the risk of being sued if they use heroic measures outside of a hospital setting. I mean, they run the risk of being sued either way, but at least in a hospital patients have usually signed wavers or whatever else is needed to keep their doctors safe from legal action.

The problem is that it's very possible, if not likely, that you will, for example, bruise or even break the bones of someone you are trying to save with CPR. After the heat of the moment it occurs to people that they can sue the person who saved their life for physical damages, because technically, they were damaged by their actions.

Andrew Kirmayer

Andrew Kirmayer

Former Writer

Andrew Kirmayer, a freelance writer with his own online writing business, creates engaging content across various...
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