Once again, we consider the ethical duties of someone placed by fate and circumstance in a position to give life-saving service…and who refuses to do so.
Lorraine Bayless, 87 year-old resident of Glenwood Gardens, a Bakersfield, California senior living facility, collapsed on the dining room floor, not breathing, her life obviously in danger. A Glenwood Gardens staff member who identified herself as a nurse called 911, and this exchange ensued…
911 Dispatcher: “This woman’s not breathing enough. She’s gonna die if we don’t get this started. Do you understand?”
Nurse: “I understand. I am a nurse. But I cannot have our other citizens, who don’t know CPR, do it … ”
Dispatcher: “Is there anyone that works there that’s willing to do it?”
Nurse: “We can’t do that.”
Dispatcher: “Are we just gonna let this lady die?”
Nurse: “Well that’s why we’re calling 911.”
Dispatcher: “Is there anyone that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?”
Nurse: “Um, not at this time.”
The 87-year-old was declared dead at the hospital.
What’s going on here? Oh, just policy, risk-aversion, fears of liability, and utter inhuman cowardice.
Glenwood Gardens’ policy is to call 911 when a resident is in peril, and staff members are told to keep hands off, presumably in fear of being sued, though California has a Good Samaritan law that provides some protection. This staff member was “serving in the capacity of a resident services director, not as a nurse,” explained Christopher Finn, a regional director of operations for Brookdale Senior Living, which owns Glenwood Gardens. Finn says, that the facillity “is an independent living facility,” which by law is not licensed to provide medical care to its residents.
So, naturally, the logical, fair, sensible and ethical thing to do when immediate action is required to save a life is…nothing.
In a word, bullshit.
Nobody was going to sue the unnamed nurse or anybody else for performing CPR on the stricken woman. Did she risk being fired? Maybe, though we have seen that scenario turn into a well-deserved public relations disaster before. (Also here) It doesn’t matter—a life was at stake. The 911 operator had concluded that help would not arrive on time, and was begging, pleading, for someone, anyone, to take pro-active steps to try to save the woman’s life. The situation is no different from Raymond Zack’s disgraceful death, or the Brooklyn EMT’s who wouldn’t help a pregnant heart attack victim because they were on a break. (Links below)
As I wrote in response to yet another awful story of Americans ignoring a human being in mortal peril:
“Helping out another human being carries risk….America used to be about risk, but we are losing our collective nerve. The culture has gradually embraced an alignment of values where avoidance of risk nears the top of the list. We will give up some of our freedom to be secure from attack. We will give up our independence to ensure income, health insurance, and other safety nets. We will let the poor fight for us. The willingness to take great risks for important goals and objectives, which made the existence of the United States possible, is no longer seen as virtuous, logical, or smart.
“Where does that leave courage, valor and self-sacrifice? …Schools don’t teach students about courage any more. Stories about the miserable treatment of Native Americans dominate the story of how the West was won, slighting the undeniable courage of the common people who won it (or, if you prefer, took it.) The wars of the 20th Century are increasingly taught as cautionary tales about imperialism, greed or genocide; nobody graduates from high school today knowing who Alvin York or Audie Murphy was or what they did. The earlier wars? Well, you can’t teach about Pickett’s futile and heroic charge, because he was one of the “bad guys” in the Civil War. Schools rarely teach students about the Alamo (which fell 177 years ago this weak, not that many news media organizations noticed) outside of Texas: too many slaveholders in that brave group, and they were fighting Mexicans.
“It is true that today’s popular culture, Harry Potter and the like, still occasionally celebrate heroism and sacrifice. But this is not enough to maintain bravery and courage as cultural values, when all the other societal messages are telling Americans to be safe, be secure, and above all, avoid risk…
“I don’t know what it will take to make Americans remember what was once a cherished part of their heritage, that the courage to do what is right in the face of danger and risk is essential to a healthy society and a meaningful life.”
So is recognizing the duty to rescue fellow human beings in peril.
Now, however, the trend is to find excuses for the callous and the cowardly. Lorraine Bayless’s family immediately put out a statement that Lorraine didn’t want to be rescued, and that the family “knows that mom had full knowledge of the limitations of Glenwood Gardens and is at peace.” She’s also dead. Lorraine knew that if she fell ill and needed CPR, a facility nurse would just stand by shrugging as the 911 operator begged her to help? Who believes that? There was no paperwork or signed form indicating that Bayless had made a DNR request. In any event, the nurse who let her die didn’t know whether she had a DNR or not. The moral luck that Lorraine secretly wanted to be left to die on the dining room floor—if you choose to believe such a thing—doesn’t alter the unethical nature of the nurse’s conduct or make it any more defensible.
Here again is the Ethics Alarms list of posts on the duty to rescue, recently updated….
…and it continues to grow longer and more damning.
- “I’m Warning You: If You Rescue That Drowning Man Over There, You’re Fired!”: The lifeguard who was fired for saving a drowning man on the wrong beach.
- “Ethics Dunce: Safeway. Ethics Dunce: Ryan Young. Justice? Waiting…”: A Safeway employee is fired for rescuing a battered woman.
- “An Ethics Lesson Missed, A Life Lost: Two people heard a woman being beaten to death next door, and didn’t bother to call 911.
- “A Facebook Suicide and the Duty to Rescue”: A woman slowly streamed her suicide to the world. None of her friends did a thing to save her.
- An Inconvenient Question About the Death of Walter Vance : Man drops unconscious on the sidewalk, shoppers walk around him.
- “An Ethics Question From Ethicist Peter Singer”: Children are dying overseas. Are we monsters not to save them?
- The Heroic Bird-Watchers and The Shame of the Star Princess: A cruise ship couldn’t be bothered to rescue the crew of a disabled vessel.
- “When Ethics Hero Meets Ethics Dunce”: A concerned citizen steps up in a crisis, and gets fined for it.
- “A Tale of Two Heathers”: Heather #1 locked her baby alone in a broiling car; Heather #2 called the police; Heather #1 attacked her.
- “What Hugo Alfredo Tal-Yax Can Teach America”: A homeless immigrant give his life to try to rescue a stranger.
- “The Death of Raymond Zack”: Firefighters stood on the shore, watching a depressed man slowly drown himself.
- The McDonald’s Beating Video”: Bystanders take video while a woman is beaten savagely.
- “Death on Everest” : 41 Mountain climbers let a colleague die rather than try to help him.
- “Dr. Phil’s Child-Abusing Mom”: TV Producers ask a mother to videotape her child abuse.
- “Ethics Hero: Liev Schrieber”: A an actor comes to the rescue…off the stage.
- “The Titanic Principle”: How much should we risk to help the desperate?
- “Ethics Alarms and the Brooklyn EMTs”: Reflections on the infamous 2009 incident in which two EMT’s let a pregnant woman die…because they were on a break.
- “Fire Fighting in Obion County”: A community lets a man’s house burn to the ground