Doctors Split on Mandatory Bystander Laws



In early June, a group of teenagers in Florida, in the United States, laughed at and mocked a man as he drowned. The teenagers did not alert the authorities either during or after the event, but recorded the incident on their phones until the man died. While different states within the U.S. and different countries have varying laws on bystanders and intervention in emergency situations, Florida has no law in place, and the teenagers faced no criminal consequence.

In light of this incident, we asked doctors if they think it should be considered a crime not to take reasonable steps to help someone in physical distress.

Over 2,200 doctors from 20+ countries weighed-in on the debate, taking into account their own countries’ laws—globally, just over half (54 percent) of doctors believe it should not be legally required to help someone in distress. Interestingly, outside the U.S., 61 percent of physicians think it should be legally required to help someone in distress:

 “Although I will always help someone in distress, I don’t believe any law should compel anyone to help.”- Emergency Medicine, US

 “In many instances the bystander might be putting himself in jeopardy to some extent by [intervening].” -Obstetrics & Gynecology, US

 “Morally I’d hope one would be inclined to help so long it doesn’t endanger the potential good Samaritan. However, as many have iterated, I don’t think it should be a law.” -Emergency Medicine, Canada

“I feel a moral duty to help someone…. I find it disconcerting not to have at least contacted the authorities.” -Oncology, Italy

 “France applies the law of obliging to come to the aid of a person in danger, if one does not endanger oneself. And this is a basic human rule…” – General practice, France

 “’Reasonable’ steps would most likely include picking up the phone and calling 911 and not simply walking away. What happened to the ‘Do No Harm’ principle?” -Urology, US

 “In Spain it is a crime not to offer help to someone who needs it, it seems to me something moral to offer help to anyone who needs it and in the case of the young people of Florida should be punished for allowing a death and also recording it.” -Urology, Spain

 “Of course it’s a crime. If the person does not feel able to help, at least he should seek help.” -Family Medicine, Venezuela

 “In Switzerland, such behavior would be considered criminal for “lack of assistance”. You have to do what is reasonable to help people in need: call the police or rescue workers or help if you can. If you can swim, you must save someone from a pond. It can not be asked that one should risk one’s life in a rescue.” -Pediatrics, Switzerland

The poll was fielded in July of 2017. 2223 physicians responded to the poll. The margin of error for the global poll was ±2%. More information about Sermo polling methodology can be found here.

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