The past two days I have attended training to become certified in paediatric first aid. It seems like a good skill for the parent of a young child to have. The course was good, an excellent initative organized by Calvin’s creche.

In addition to covering rescue breathing, CPR, and where to find syrup of ipecac and activated charcoal in a hurry (a pet shop or your unopened and unused Brita filters), we also spent a good portion of the course on the issue of ethics and liability.

Given the profile of Calvin’s creche, it wasn’t surprising that there wasn’t an American among the parent participants. We covered the globe ranging across Asia, Africa and Europe. Despite the diversity of origins, there was a shared disbelief in the results that a litigious society has produced.

It boils down to this: if you come across a child who is hurt, do not administer first aid regardless of having the knowledge and skills to do so and even if it means that child could/would die. Your legal obliation is to call 911. If you directly assist, the liability i.e. likelihood of being sued, are so high and the results so extreme, that it is unwise to do so.

Being people who work everyday with the sole purpose of assisting all people everywere, this was particularly difficult for the group to comprehend. We literally went through dozens of scenarios and were saddened to confront a reality where almost every consideration trumped our shared moral “true north” — the ethical and moral humanitarian imperative to assist someone in need if we had the skills.

The sad truth, though, is that we realized we were receiving good advice. The legal facts and the non-urban legends bear this up. There is even, we discovered with a added sense of horror, something called the ‘Good Samaritan Law,’ a law to govern the conditions and responsibilities under which one helps a complete stranger.

Someone summed it this way up as we rode down in the elevator: “I guess it’s alright to help someone because it’s the right thing to do… just not in America.”

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