Good Samaritan Laws: When Does a Doctor’s Day End and a New One Begin?

Recently I was aboard an international flight when they asked if a doctor or healthcare professional was on board. It was in the middle of a 12-hour flight, and the cabin was dim, and nearly everyone was asleep. I happened to hear the overhead call that a healthcare professional was needed and, per usual, hesitated for a few minutes to see if anybody was getting up. As I did not see anyone get up, I got out of my seat and informed the stewardess that I was a doctor and could help.

They had not found a healthcare professional yet and asked me to see a passenger in the back cabin. Luckily the passenger was merely having a bout of food poisoning. She had some diarrhea and vomiting while onboard the flight and had stomach pain. She appeared stable with good pulses and had abdominal discomfort. She had no history of prior surgeries and had never had her appendix removed. She made it through the flight with some discomfort until the paramedics greeted her at the gate.

This is not an often occurrence for me. However, these things do happen to doctors everyday. Although there are laws that protect us from malpractice, called “Good Samaritan Laws,” whenever I hear that call for help, my initial reaction is to do nothing. Then I feel guilty that I am doing nothing and someone may be dying or in serious medical need.

Everyday doctors are faced with internal struggle about how best to manage patients and their situations. Although we are all capable of being first responders, we do not necessarily have to be first responders. What we should do is always direct people to emergency responders and to places where they can get their definitive care. When there is a patient who needs emergent medical care, but we are not prepared to give it, we must direct them to someone who can.

Non-medical people might not understand how a doctor can sit by and not get engaged in an emergency situation. If this were the case, then we would not need emergency personnel or paramedics. The emergency response system is there for a reason. If I get into an accident, I certainly would not want some random doctor not trained in emergency care to look after me.

2 comments to Good Samaritan Laws: When Does a Doctor’s Day End and a New One Begin?

  • I wonder if you were one of those Dr.’s who became a Dr. to help people. It kind of sounds like you are complaining about helping. What kind of emergency medical assistance can you get on a plane? I am no longer an emergency medical worker or in the medical field but I do not have any problem helping another human being aka brother or sister.

  • Evelyne

    Elizabeth, unfortunately the law in common law countries do not get along with the parable of the Good Samaritan. As everything in anglo-saxon countries, individual liberty is the basis of the legal system. If you wanna help sbdy without the risk of being sued, well move to a civil law country where there is a duty to rescue a stranger.

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