Doctors acting as Good Samaritans – are they liable for the care they provide?

Water fountain at Strathcona Island Park in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Water fountain at Strathcona Island Park in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

A Good Samaritan is one who helps a stranger. Is there anything like a bad Samaritan? I don’t know.

“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. So 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. For some, including physicians, nurses and paramedics, it is second nature to help strangers in physical danger.

“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). The CMPA’s job is to provide legal assistance to doctors.

What are the physician’s ethical obligations?

  1. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta view physicians as having an ethical duty to do their best to attend to individuals in need of urgent care.
  2. The Canadian Medical Association’s Code of Ethics states that physicians should: “Provide whatever appropriate assistance you can to any person with an urgent need for medical care.”
  3. Quebec has its own code of ethics for physicians, which is enshrined in law, with similar requirements.

Are there legal obligations and risks?

The article in the CMPA bulletin says that legal obligations and risks can be more difficult to determine. Because emergencies can happen anywhere, at any time, physicians may find themselves being asked to provide emergency care in a variety of legal jurisdictions – within Canada or in another country, or in international airspace or waters if on an aircraft or ship. Different locations can mean different legal obligations.

Three things to remember about legal obligations:

  1. In Canada, most jurisdictions do not impose a legal duty or obligation on physicians to provide emergency medical services.
  2. All jurisdictions, however, have legislation that protects physicians who voluntarily provide emergency assistance at the scene of an accident or in an emergency.
  3. 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.

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 attention. The CMPA does not know of any proceedings commenced against Canadian physicians in Canadian courts or in foreign courts alleging negligence in providing emergency medical attention as a good Samaritan.

CMPA says that 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; they do not have to retain membership solely for this possibility.

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

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!


What makes you happy?

While you are thinking about it, let me tell you what makes Evelyn Stall happy.

Evelyn is one of the very happy persons I have met. From time to time, she drops by my office at the Palliser Health Authority. She wants to know how I am doing. How is my family doing? And then she will ask: how is mother? Referring to my mother’s health that was the subject of one of my columns. Then I just relax and listen to her gentle soft voice. And if you can see through her dark glasses then you can observe that mischievous twinkle in her eyes. Her stories and homilies are very funny to very serious.

She is like a cheerleader to me. Every time she talks to me I feel happy. I develop a renewed sense of purpose in life. She has a capacity to inspire you to do things that are good for others. That is Evelyn Stall, a lady with unselfish and unlimited desire to help people. A true volunteer. And I think that is what keeps her happy.

A volunteer is one who enters into or offers himself for any service of his own free will. We are all volunteers in one-way or the other. We do not get paid for everything we do. Consciously or unconsciously we volunteer our time to our school, hospital, church, association, society, sorority or for a cause which we firmly believe in. When we do this, we don’t even think of getting paid. We feel it is our duty to help.

Why do people volunteer?

I think the primary reason is unselfish desire and interest to care for the welfare of others. Some people volunteer because they want to do something in their retirement. They want to continue to be useful in society. Which is healthy for the giver and the recipient of the volunteer service. Volunteering is a win-win situation.

Some people argue that volunteerism is dead. They think people are working harder to make ends meet and have no incentive or desire to provide free service. They have less free time to devote to the poor, the sick and the needy.

So, the news of the opening of the Volunteer Centre at 856 – Allowance Avenue caught my attention. And I was quite happy to see that Evelyn Stall and her associates’ perseverance had borne fruit. It is going to be the principal volunteer centre in Medicine Hat and many local societies will benefit from the training program being established at the Centre.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Centre given to Volunteerism in Action Association rent-free by REDI Enterprises. Pam Wagner and her associates gave me a tour. I was impressed the way the old bottle depot has changed. No more smell of old beer bottles! Instead, tastefully furnished large meeting rooms with big windows. There are fresh apples to welcome new volunteers. There is air of enthusiasm and happiness!

Happiness is a very subjective thing. If helping people is your kind of happiness then phone Pam Wagner at 528-1799. She will match you up with a society that is looking for some body like you. Your happiness will rub onto many people who will be ever so grateful that you made that phone call. So do it now while you are finishing this column. Let there be happiness everywhere! And you will be the source of that happiness!

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!