duty to rescue


The good Samaritan doctor and the Human Tissue Act

26 Jun 2013 by

Woman Resuscitating a Young BoyCM v The Executor of the Estate of EJ (deceased) [2013] EWHC 1680 (Fam) – read judgment

You would have thought the law would be entirely behind a person who intervenes to help a stranger in distress. Indeed most civil law countries impose a positive duty to rescue, which means that if a person finds someone in need of medical help, he or she must take all reasonable steps to seek medical care and render best-effort first aid. A famous example of this was the investigation into the photographers at the scene of Lady Diana’s fatal car accident: they were suspected of violation of the French law of “non-assistance à personne en danger” (deliberately failing to provide assistance to a person in danger), which can be punished by up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of up to 70,000 euros. But the position in common law countries like the UK and the United States is completely different: you can watch a child drown and not be held to account.

Of course no good citizen would do such a thing and in this case the claimant, a medical doctor, went out of her way to try to save the life of someone in extremis. She was driving home, off duty, in South East London, when she saw a body lying motionless on the pavement.
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