Individual Rights vs. Social Good

24 Mar

I was speaking to a lawyer in Hawaii last week about water safety and drowning prevention.  We were discussing how difficult it can be to navigate laws and training which vary by state and by country.  He told me the story of a doctor and trained lifeguard from Canada who attempted to rescue a drowning victim while on vacation in Hawaii.  The doctor used Canadian-approved lifesaving techniques but the victim’s neck was broken during the rescue attempt and the doctor was sued – for attempting to save the life of someone who probably would have died otherwise.  This is not a commentary on either Hawaiian law or Canadian techniques – both are designed to protect and similar laws exist around the world.

Rather than get into a debate on the legal system in various countries that such a story would undoubtedly elicit,  I’d like to explore how international standards could be applied to basic procedures which save lives.  Individual states in the U.S. have Good Samaritan laws which offer varying degrees of protection for someone who performs CPR depending on their training/certification/situation.  Brilliant idea!  But what happens if I’m certified in Illinois (I am) and I’m on vacation in another state or country and don’t know if I’m ‘safe’ to help or would be sued?  What if I’m a certified lifesaver in Australia – shouldn’t that certification be recognized globally?  If individual countries and states can’t agree on how lifesaving and CPR should be done (and there are no international standards for CPR, only ‘guidelines’) then shouldn’t there at least be a treaty recognizing that being certified in lifesaving techniques in your home country or state are valid internationally?  If you are having a heart attack or drowning wouldn’t you want anyone who was certified properly to help you instead of worrying they will be sued and leave you to die?  Isn’t the whole purpose of learning CPR or lifesaving to save lives?


2 Responses to “Individual Rights vs. Social Good”

  1. Ian Currie March 24, 2010 at 1:56 pm #


    Interesting topic. I’m certified in First Aid and CPR and can tell you that in Canada, we are protected by the Good Samaritan ‘principles.’ Having said that; (as far as I understand) it doesn’t protect us from being sued – since everyone has the right to litigate. Hopefully, however, the courts ‘up-here’ would rule in the ‘Good Samaritan’s’ favour.

    Let me offer another angle to this topic. I’ve been told that in the Province of Quebec, Canada, that there is a law that actually requires civilians to provide first aid to a ‘victim’ if they are qualified to do so; whereas in the rest of Canada, we have the option not to help.

    So, without knowing the Laws of the Land, a person could be sued for trying to help or for standing by and doing nothing.

    Personally, I’d assist, if safe to do so within the confines of what I’ve been taught to do, and hope for the best.

  2. Rebecca Wear Robinson April 6, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    Thanks for commenting. I have to wonder how many ‘average’ people even know what a ‘Good Samaritan’ Law is – I certainly had never heard of it until I took CPR/First Aid. Like you, I’d assist in a crisis and I certainly would hope someone would help me!

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