Definitions: a “full code” means that if your heart stops (and you have died), the medical professionals in a hospital or paramedics from a 911 phone call will do everything medically possible to try and restart the heart. A “no code” means if your heart stops (and you have died), the medical professionals in a hospital or paramedics from a 911 call, will NOT try to restart your heart. They will let a person stay dead.
This sounds very harsh so let's explore this idea further. We are conditioned to think that a call to 911 can help us no matter what the emergency is and to think that the doctors, while I am in the hospital, will always be able to “fix me.” Because everyone dies, whether or not we want to admit it, there will come a point when the medical system will “fail” us. It will be our time to die. When the doctors have said, “I can’t fix you” it is time to reconsider what medicine can do for us. Medicine can prolong life but generally at the expense of our well being. Or we can consider using medicine only as a tool to provide comfort, dignity and support as our final life experience unfolds.
If I stuck my finger in a light socket and my heart stopped, I would want you to call 911. The paramedics could probably restart my heart and I would return to my normal life and activities.
If my body is filled with a disease that the doctors have said they cannot fix, my heart stops, and I do NOT have a No Code order or DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form completed, the paramedics or doctors are bound by their profession to try to start my heart again. And they may succeed BUT in most cases I will not be as able as I was before my heart stopped and my disease will still be non-fixable. I will just have to die again in a short time. In that short time there will be continued decline of my body, continued progress of the disease, the pain will remain and may be increased due to the resuscitation efforts and my life will have less and less quality.
Something more... about How Do You Help Someone Convert From a Full Code to a No Code?
Understanding the signs of approaching death helps us make better decisions in our end of life care. GONE FROM MY SIGHT: The Dying Experience booklet demystifies the stages of dying and leaves you feeling more prepared and at ease.