Good Samaritan laws necessary: Human life more important than policy

Andrea Pink

Last week, 87-year-old Lorraine Bayliss died after collapsing in her Bakersfield, Calif. retirement community.

Soon after, a 911 recording surfaced of an employee at the Greenwood Gardens retirement complex calling for help.

On the recording, when the 911 dispatcher instructed the employee to start CPR on the victim, she refused.

The worker, who was certified in CPR, and identified herself only as Coleen, told 911 dispatcher Tracey Halvorson that it was a liability issue and against company policy to provide life-saving assistance to residents.

When Halvorson pleaded for her to hand the phone off to another resident or passerby, she claimed there was no one nearby.

Currently, all states have Good Samaritan laws in place, which are aimed at protecting citizens if they were to get involved in an emergency situation, but few people are aware of these rules, and it is easy to get confused as to how Good Samaritan laws might protect the average citizen.

In Michigain, part three of the law (MCL 691.1504) covers rendering of cardiopulmonary resussitation (CPR) and use of an external defibrillator.

Basically, it states that if a person voluntarily perfroms CPR, they cannot be held liable for any civil damages except those resulting from gross neglegence.

Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University, said in an article from CNN.com, from a “medical ethics point of view, I think if you call 911, and 911 says, ‘start CPR,’ you have to do it. You are under an obligation to do it. You’ve started that process and you must follow through. The policy on paper may make sense,” he said, “but policy be damned when someone’s life is at stake.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Caplan’s claims. Forget policy.

It comes down to simply being human.

I can’t imagine one being able to sit back and watch another human being die, especially when they’ve been trained in emergency assistance.

When Halvorson asked Coleen if she was just going to let Bayliss die, she replied, “That’s why I’m calling 911.”

You could sense the urgency, frustration and utter disbelief in Halvorson’s frantic voice.

The call goes on for minutes, and through it all, Coleen seems careless and disconnected while a human being is struggling to survive right in front of her.

Halvorson assured Coleen that she would not be liable if anything were to go wrong in her providing care to the woman. She stated, the local emergency medical system “takes the liability for this call.”

As a society, we have become so desensitized to death as it is so commonly portrayed and covered in the media, that we can completely ignore the reality of a human life ending.

Does it really have to come down to whether or not someone will be sued for saving another’s life?

Regardless of the policy of the retirement complex, I feel it’s your duty as a human being to step up and help someone in an emergency such as this.

Coleen was perfectly able to help, and was assured she wouldn’t be held liable, yet she chose to do nothing.

In some instances, such as in the event of a spine or brain injury, it’s important to stay calm and to not touch or move the victim in any way, as it may cause more harm and leave a Good Samaritan liable for further injuries.

In this case, however, Coleen was trained in CPR, and Halvorson, after being described the situation, was urging, if not ordering, her to perform it.

It is possible that a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order may have been filed by a victim.

A DNR is a legal document that forbids emergency workers from performing CPR or any other rescue attempts if that person were to stop respiration or if their heart were to stop.

Complications arise when emergencies happen in public. Immediate family is to convey the victim’s wishes, and they are often times not present.

Lorraine Bayliss was a mother, and I can only assume she may have been a grandmother, also.

Think about the children and grandchildren she left behind.

Death doesn’t affect solely the deceased, and now her family has to cope with not only the death of a loved one but also the possibility that her death could have been avoided if only Coleen would have disregarded “policy” and acted from the good of her heart.

Instead, they’ve laid Lorraine to rest, perhaps all too soon.

Let’s push ourselves away from our television sets and video games and look at the bigger picture.

Death is a reality, not just something displayed in pixels of red that disappear after you press a button on your game controller. At some point in our lives, we’ve all experienced or are bound to experience, the loss of someone close to us.

I know I would like to know that those around my loved one did everything in their power to help, at least to make their passing as peaceful and as comfortable as possible.