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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Publisher’s Notebook

• A Malibu Tragedy and Good Samaritan ‘Law’ •


A recent Malibu tragedy has raised the issue of whether the State of California should have what is often called a “Good Samaritan” law that codifies the requirement that non-emergency trained random individuals seek professional help for a medical crisis or other life-threatening emergency they observe.
This is a legal determination that provides tangible consequences for someone who does not report a person who is in acute medical distress, such as a drug overdose reaction, or who has died for any cause that was not at the hand of the individual who is witness to the incident and not self-incriminating.
Laws prohibit individuals from running from the scene of a vehicular accident, where property or physical damage is a factor. Of course, one can argue that this applies to people who cause the accident, but shouldn’t there be a way to require that someone who is present at a tragedy remain to answer any questions that might explain the circumstances?
The notion of the Samaritan is fundamental to Judeo-Christian beliefs and the concept that one should seek help for those in distress evokes the most basic sense of human nurturing and compassion toward all living beings.
It finds its scriptural source in Luke 10:33-35:
“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.”
California’s so-called Good Samaritan law only addresses protections for trained emergency and medical personnel responding to accidents and other disaster scenes. Nothing provides protections or responsibilities for those who are not in the covered categories, such as bystanders or others who are present when something calamitous occurs.
Should there be a legal responsibility to seek aid in that kind of circumstance, or, at a minimum, should there be a requirement to dial 911 even if one plans to leave the scene before help arrives?
Would anyone argue that there isn’t a moral or social imperative to assist people in distress by calling for the assistance of those trained and equipped to handle the kind of emergency encountered?
How does society codify goodness into law? Laws are at their best and clearest when prohibiting bad behavior, but mandating good behavior is a much more complex matter.
 I will have more to say about this in future columns. For now, I’d like to hear what community members think about this thorny philosophical issue.

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