Reason needed in wake of tragic, preventable death

When a nurse refused to do CPR on a woman it spurred support for laws mandating emergency care. That’s not something that can, or should, be mandated.


Public outrage over a preventable death often leads to loud calls for change in the laws. But sometimes new legislation — particularly when driven by emotion — often causes far more problems than it addresses.

And that might well be the case if new laws result from legislation enacted in the wake of the tragedy in California in which a nurse at an independent living home refused to give CPR to a dying 87-year-old woman.

The incident has gained national attention as the horrifying seven-minute 9-1-1 call where a dispatcher makes desperate pleas for the nurse to do CPR has been played over and over on cable news channels.

Support for legislation to prevent a repeat of the Feb. 26 in Bakersfield is growing by the day.

“This is a wakeup call,” said California Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, chairwoman of the California Assembly Aging and Long-term Care Committee. “I’m sorry it took a tragedy like this to bring it to our attention.”

But what do citizens and lawmakers want to happen? Do they want laws mandating CPR must be performed by those who are present during an emergency.

Every emergency occurs under a different set of circumstances. One mandate does not fit all. Good judgment, however, is essential.

Some people are not qualified to perform CPR nor do they fully know when CPR should be performed. Serious injury from CPR could occur to people who might not have needed it. In other cases, a death could occur because CPR mistakes were made before trained paramedics arrive.

We believe every person has a moral obligation to do what is necessary — including CPR — to save another’s life. But people shouldn’t be forced to do CPR under threat of criminal prosecution.

The wise approach is to establish laws that protect citizens from being sued for trying to help and then leave it to the judgment of individuals based on circumstances.

What happened in California is rare — and pretty weird.

The 87-year-old woman collapsed in the dining room of the retirement home that offers various levels of care. The woman lived in the independent living building. Because no care is provided for folks living in that building no licensing or state oversight is required.

The facility has a policy on independent living emergencies. Employees are to call 9-1-1 and wait there until medical help arrives. They are not allowed to do CPR. The nurse said she felt she had to follow the policy.

This, at least on the surface, sounds like a pretty stupid policy. Nurses and others should be given leeway to perform CPR.

We would hope this incident causes officials at the Bakersfield facility — and every similar facility in America — to take a hard look at emergency policies.

But state lawmakers should take a step back. Laws written to address a single, rare incident are usually lousy laws.

This death is a tragedy, but it should not be compounded by legislative overreaction.


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