I've written so many times about the explosion of laws, and the consequent inability of the common man to know what the law is -- and whether he's broken it, of course -- that stories such as this one no longer come as a surprise:
A California retirement home is backing one of its nurses after she refused desperate pleas from a 911 operator to perform CPR on an elderly woman who later died, saying the nurse was following the facility's policy.
"Is there anybody that's willing to help this lady and not let her die," dispatcher Tracey Halvorson says on a 911 tape released by the Bakersfield Fire Department aired by several media outlets on Sunday.
"Not at this time," said the nurse, who didn't give her full name and said facility policy prevented her from giving the woman medical help.
At the beginning of the 7-minute, 16-second call on Tuesday morning, the nurse asked for paramedics to come and help the 87-year-old woman who had collapsed in the home's dining room and was barely breathing.
Halvorson pleads for the nurse to perform CPR, and after several refusals she starts pleading for her to find a resident, or a gardener, or anyone not employed by the home to get on the phone, take her instructions and help the woman.
"Can we flag someone down in the street and get them to help this lady?" Halvorson says on the call. "Can we flag a stranger down? I bet a stranger would help her."
No, no surprise there. The nurse -- a "health care professional," mind you -- was not only unwilling to administer a resuscitative procedure, she was unwilling to give her name. Why? Partly, no doubt, because of "company policy," as she said to the 911 operator, but for two other reasons as well:
- "Wrongful death" suits;
- "Wrongful life" suits;
...both of which are now recognized in the state of California as legitimate causes for legal action.
Given that a "deep pockets" orientation would cause a plaintiff to aim his suit, of whichever sort, at the employer, you'd think the nurse would be relatively well insulated from adverse legal consequences. But it is not so. Quite often, such a suit will employ a "phone book" approach, suing anyone and everyone with the least connection to the events at issue. Nor would the nurse's employer necessarily be forgiving in the aftermath.
California's "Good Samaritan" law, which was intended to prevent post-hoc tort actions against a person who renders medical assistance in such an emergency, has proved to be no barrier to the sort of lawsuits and professional destruction that nurse might face. Given that, and her employer's policy, she did the safest thing she could: nothing at all.
No, no surprise...but quite a lot of outrage.
In a legal environment as irrational as ours, populated by plaintiffs and lawyers as vulpine as ours, incidents like the above will inevitably become commonplace. Eventually, they will cease to be reported, on the dog-bites-man rule. That hasn't happened yet, mainly because the great majority of America's doctors and nurses retain an ethic of service to life. But time, the great destroyer, will put paid to that as ever more persons in positions similar to that unnamed nurse find themselves in damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't situations, where the only sure defense against legal and professional ruination is to be somewhere else.
A nurse I dated long ago once spoke, with considerable pride, of being a member of "the helping professions." But she also noted, with no small amount of resentment, how demanding, inconsiderate, and unsparing those she had trained to help could be. In our current milieu, the deterioration of doctors' and nurses' attachment to the ethic of life, and the acceleration of ungrateful, vulpine behavior among those who demand "health care" from them as a matter of right, are both nearly guaranteed.
ObamaCare will surely help those trends along.