Gail is driving home after a very busy 12-hour shift in the cardiovascular intensive care unit. She is 5 minutes from home and is looking forward to spending the evening with friends. As she rounds a corner, she sees a multivehicle accident. She slows her car and observes a number of people rushing to help. Reassured that appropriate assistance will be provided, Gail continues home. The next day, she arrives at work to discover that she is assigned to care for one of the accident victims, a 20-year-old man who sustained serious chest trauma resulting in a tear to his aorta. Delays in the arrival of paramedics resulted in problems with early management of his airway. Now, although surgery has corrected the tear, it is unclear whether inadequate oxygenation to his brain will result in permanent brain damage. Gail feels responsible and wishes she had stopped to help.
There is often a stigma attached to medical staff if they do not provide care to victims of street accidents. The main argument in such claims is the Hippocratic Oath, which medical students seem to take, giving a lifelong obligation to help all people. However, the Hippocratic Oath is no longer the current version of the medical profession’s code of ethics, and so using it as a counterargument is irrelevant. Gail had no violation of either the legal or moral code concerning this case because she was convinced that skilled care was nearby. Gail driving past the accident is the nurse’s responsibility and cannot be the basis for public censure.
However, if Gail chose to help the victims, it would immediately impose specific requirements on her, noncompliance with which could cost her reputation, career, and freedom. When an outside nurse provides first aid to an injured person, she has a responsibility to perform the procedures correctly because if she is found to have caused more harm, that will be the basis for legal sanctions against her. However, this usually does not happen because the rescuer is protected by Good Samaritan law.
In fact, Gail finds herself protected by Good Samaritan law, which prevents a claim against the nurse for bona fide first aid. Because the victims were unconscious adults, their presumed reasonable consent should have been sufficient for Gail to initiate first aid (Keatings & Adams, 2019). According to this law, no liability should have been incurred by the woman if she performed everything in good faith and to the best of her knowledge and experience. However, if she stopped performing first aid without justification halfway through, this could have been grounds for considering a crime. However, unlike in court, Gail had personal moral responsibility, if that applies in her case.
This is a complicated issue, as it requires many factors. If I had been confident that professional help was close, I would not have started first aid because fatigue and overexertion could have caused me to make a mistake. However, if such a situation has just occurred and help is not yet imminent, I would give the victim first aid and do my best to achieve a positive result rather than thinking about how to avoid the consequences.
Keatings, M., & Adams, P. (2019). Ethical and legal issues in Canadian nursing e-book. Elsevier Health Sciences.