A Mother Dies as EMTs Munch Bagels: Why?

In Brooklyn, New York, a pregnant woman went into cardiac arrest in front of  two EMT’s having breakfast at a coffee shop. They did nothing to help her, despite entreaties from others at the shop, reportedly because they were “on break.” And she died.

You can bank on hearing a lot more about the horrific incident in the coming days and weeks. Normally an obvious example of miserable human conduct wouldn’t be mentioned here, because there is no ethical controversy to consider. This one, however, raises important questions that have to be answered:

  • What kind of cultural values are lurking beneath the surface of our society that would lead two individuals to be so callous to endangered human life when they had the skill and responsibility to act? One person could be an aberration, but two suggests a much larger problem.
  • How can people capable of such conduct be recruited and employed by any Fire Department, anywhere?
  • It will be easy to heap condemnation on the two EMT’s who preferred to finish their bagels rather than to save a mother’s life. That won’t address the more important question of what we can and must do, not just to prevent anything like this happening again, but to identify and eradicate the toxic values in our society that could allow this to happen even once.

One thing seems certain: New York’s famous Christmas spirit isn’t what it used to be.

10 thoughts on “A Mother Dies as EMTs Munch Bagels: Why?

  1. Consider this:

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1209/Gillibrand_spox_Nothing_more_to_add.html

    “Nobody in New York, or Washington, thought Schumer was the politest soul or nicest person in Congress, or voted for him for his politesse. He’s rock solid politically at home — a place where rudeness is considered a virtue — and his political trajectory is toward the sort of office held by notable nice guys Lyndon Johnson and Tom DeLay.”

    I was reminded of this article by your commentary the other day about Schumer’s bad behavior to a flight attendant, which is what the above Politico article is about.

    It seems that in New York, being a jerk is considered not only a right, but a virtue. Perhaps that posture has spilled over into an attitude that has led to unintended consequences.

    I am not trying to accuse all New Yorkers of being capable of the intolerable actions (or in this case, refusal to act) by these two EMT’s. What I am suggesting is perhaps considering rude and unpleasant behavior a “virtue” has created an environment where some have felt empowered to carry it to acts of extreme narcissism.

    Perhaps, just perhaps, rhetorical coarseness and lack of respect for one’s fellow-man (or woman) in discourse can widen the path to further acts of inhumanity.

  2. I may work at a movie theatre, but I’ve done a few things while on my break.

    * Once, a guy came out of a theatre and wanted a smoke. He asked me if the side doors would lock him out. I said yes, but volunteered to stand by while he had a smoke and let him back in. He gave me a piece of cinnamon gum as thanks, my first in some time. Personally, I was just happy he wasn’t smoking in the bathroom.

    * Another time, one of my coworkers came into the break room and said, “There’s a huge line at the stand.” Since we have to take our breaks around movies, sometimes you have to take a break while shows are still going in. It’s always a gamble, and I had gambled incorrectly this time. I ran out and helped a few customers to knock out the line. I didn’t get that break time back, since we punch out at certain times if the shift is a certain length, but I was the one who decided to take the break then, so it was my mistake.

    I didn’t have to do either of those things. I was well within my rights to sit in the break room and stare at a wall. But I did it anyway because it was a nice thing to do.

    There’s never been a life-and-death situation that at the theatre, or at least, not while I was there. But if there was, even as a non-EMT, I can’t imagine not doing anything as an employee (even if it’s just running to the office to grab aspirin for a cardiac arrest or at least handling customers while someone who knew what they were doing handled it). Conversely, as a non-EMT, if I wasn’t on the job and was in a donut shop and someone collapsed of a heart attack, I would almost certainly try to help them in THAT scenario as well.

    This is a story of such amazing sickness, I have to assume there’s more to it than this. Can it really be so simple as two EMTs didn’t care that someone was dying because they weren’t on the clock? There MUST be something we’re missing.

    Do EMTs take the Hippocratic oath? Because if this isn’t a violation if that, then nothing is. These two should be forced to work at a bagel shop for the rest of their days, if they can handle that much responsibility.

  3. I think it speaks more toward the mentality of New Yorkers than anything else. Dont take this the wrong way, it is just a prejudice on my part. But everyone I have ever talked to who has been to New York, every movie I have seen, every story I have heard…. New Yorkers are a bunch of punk assholes who are only concerned for themselves. Exemplified by this story of yours. A ten minute break is more important than a human life – to a New Yorker. I might be wrong, but I highly doubt anyone else in all the country would have acted that deplorably. What about the patrons at the shop? Did they step in to help or did they brush it off as the “EMTs responsibility”. I doubt anything bad will happen to these EMTs. Their professional kin will back them and protect them. Why do people get into such fields if they dont care to help save lives?

    • Here’s an update to the story. It appears that one of the EMTs did call 911. The story also says that the pair may face criminal charges—no way this one will be swept under the rug.

      There’s no place in America as callous to human life as the New York you describe, presumably for effect. Yes, big city culture does make many people avoid human connections…NYC does lead the country in stories like this—people on the street walking by dead bodies; Kitty Genovese…the 2008 incident referenced in the link. But would this happen other places? Not every place, that’s for sure. I think it is an important question for people in every city to ask themselves: could this happen here?

      But people don’t become apathetic about human life just by moving to NY—making a blanket negative judgment about all New Yorkers based on the actions of a couple, or even pronouncing a whole city’s population as “punk assholes,” is essentially bigotry, and undeniably unfair. Some of the finest people I’ve met in my life are New Yorkers, and New Yorkers in the same profession as these EMTs are the people who sacrificed their lives trying to rescue thousands trapped in two burning skyscarpers—perhaps you recall the incident. This city has great pride, and the incident yesterday has hurt it deeply. Just watch.

      I am less sanguine about the rest of the country. Google’s list of National news stories, for example, featured a PR visit by the Obama’s dog, Bo. The Brooklyn story was way, way down the list. THAT’s disturbing.

  4. Jack,
    While the EMTs may have been ethically obligated to assist the woman, legally they could have been placing themselves in murky waters. Like it or not, we live in a fairly litigious society and more than one health care professional has been sued for offering help in everyday situations. Paramedics on break are technically on their own time, meaning the city is not likely to support them in case of a suit. Moreover, even where the treatments have been life-saving, complaints have followed that actions taken were “too severe” or carried out “without consent.”

    Maybe this speaks to a larger ethical issue involving good samaritans or golden rules, or perhaps that story about the manger. Either way, I think we could all benefit from a bit more trust in our fellow men all around.

    -Neil

    PS: Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

  5. No, Neil, apparently EMT’s are never completely “off-duty.” And there is no way a pair of EMTs helping a dying pregnant woman would not have the city backing them up 100%. New Yorkers know politics.

  6. Pingback: Ehics Hero:Liev Schreiber, an Actor Who Understands the Duty to Act « Ethics Alarms

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