The Emergency Medical Aid Act and Emergency Situations.

AuthorGee, Donna L.
PositionSpecial Report: Emergencies and the Law

The New Testament story of the Good Samaritan is familiar to most people with even a basic knowledge of Christian teachings. Briefly, Jesus is reputed to have been asked "who is my neighbour?" In other words, give us an example of what would constitute an act of compassion for a stranger in trouble. So, Jesus told a story about a man who was mugged and left for dead at roadside. A priest passed by without lending a hand, then a Levite passed, ignoring the badly hurt man. Finally, a Samaritan (a member of a group who in Jesus's time was ostracized by many) happened along, tended to the victim's wounds and paid for his shelter while he was recuperating at a nearby inn.

In modern legal terms, the question to be asked is not "who is my neighbour"? Instead, the legal question to be asked is do we owe a duty of care to give assistance to strangers in distress? For many of us, there's a natural tendency to help somebody in distress, whether we come upon somebody who has collapsed on a sidewalk or we come upon a car accident.

The question of whether there should be a legal duty to assist strangers in trouble has been the occasional source of debate among legal scholars over the years. However, generally throughout the parts of the world that have been influenced by or that have adopted the British common law tradition, so-called Good Samaritan Law has fallen short of legislating a positive legal duty to help strangers in distress. However, if people do render aid to strangers suffering a medical emergency or some sort of injury, there is some degree of protection in law. In Alberta, the actions of people who voluntarily help strangers in distress fall under the Emergency Medica! Aid Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. E-7 (the Act).

The Act divides people who voluntarily help others in distress into four groups:

* physicians;

* registered health discipline members (e.g. licensed practical nurses, midwives or paramedics;

* registered nurses; and

* everyone else who is not a member of the first three groups.

According to section 2 of the Act, anyone, whether they are a member of the first three groups of health care professionals or simply a concerned person with no health care background, would not be held liable for any subsequent harm or death of a person in medical distress to whom voluntary assistance was given. However, there is an exception. If it could be proven that the subsequent harm or death resulted from the gross negligence of the person providing...

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