Good Samaritan: Is there a doctor on board?

Sand art on a beach in Albufeira, Algarve, Portugal. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Sand art on a beach in Albufeira, Algarve, Portugal. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

“The parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable told by Jesus and is mentioned in only one of the gospels of the New Testament”, says an article in Wikipedia.

Good Samaritan acts are defined as when doctors and other healthcare professionals who aren’t on duty offer help in an emergency.

The concept of a Good Samaritan is not new. But in the present era of litigation some people are reluctant to help a stranger in an emergency situation.

“When an individual suddenly becomes ill or injured, doctors instinctively stop in the midst of their vacation, their business trip, or their work and offer assistance as good Samaritans, often under trying conditions”, says an article in the Canadian Medical Protective Association Bulletin (CMPA eBulletin MARCH 2018). CMPA provides legal assistance to doctors.

What are the physician’s ethical obligations and legal risks?

The article says legal obligations and risks can be more difficult to determine because emergencies can occur anywhere at any time. Besides physicians may find themselves being asked to provide emergency care in a variety of legal jurisdictions.

In Canada, most jurisdictions do not impose a legal duty or obligation on physicians to provide emergency medical services. Quebec is the only province in Canada that imposes a legal duty on physicians to come to the aid of a person in a life-threatening emergency. Quebec’s Civil Code protects physicians from liability for that care.

All jurisdictions, however, have legislation that protects physicians who voluntarily provide emergency assistance at the scene of an accident or in any emergency.

CMPA does not think courts anywhere would criticize the conduct of a physician who in good faith treated a person in need of urgent medical care.

CMPA says when its members provide care in an emergency as Good Samaritans they are generally eligible for CMPA assistance regardless of where the emergency care was delivered – anywhere in the world. Former CMPA members who act as Good Samaritans are also eligible for CMPA assistance.

With that in mind, the CMPA encourages its members to consider assisting when confronted with urgent or emergent circumstances.

As soon as possible after the emergency, physicians should document the encounter in their own records. The documentation provides a record of the medical reasoning and the steps taken, may facilitate any further investigations and treatments, and provides a valuable resource if afterwards there are questions about the care. One survey showed in spite of the risks involved most doctors are willing Samaritans.

Helping people and saving lives is what doctors do.

In a British study of doctors who acted as Good Samaritans, in the majority of cases doctors received no recognition for the help they provided, although many pointed out they did not want or expect anything. Others received thank you cards, and in a few cases the doctor was rewarded with a gift ranging from a free meal to an airline upgrade.

Most of the time you don’t need to be a doctor to provide basic life saving support. Remember what you learnt in your first aid course on CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation). The most popular acronym you learn for CPR is “ABC”. The “A” stands for airway, “B” stands for breathing, and “C” stands either for circulation or compression of a bleeder. If you can do this until further help arrives then you are doing well. You are a Good Samaritan.

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