Bakersfield, Calif.—When an 87-year-old woman collapsed in her independent living facility last week, a nurse called 911 but refused to do CPR, despite the dispatcher’s desperate pleas. “Can we flag someone down in the street?” asked the dispatcher, who offered to provide instructions over the phone. “Is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?”
The nurse replied, “Um, not at this time,” saying it was against company policy to conduct CPR on patients.
“I don’t understand why you’re not willing to help this patient,” the exasperated dispatcher said.
Although the elderly woman died, the facility boss backed up the employee, and the patient’s daughter said she was satisfied with her mother’s care.
Unlike nursing homes, independent living facilities are more like hotels than hospitals. California law doesn’t require staff at independent living facilities to provide medical aid.
Experts debated such policies, saying the nurse had a moral obligation to attempt CPR. Being worried about losing your job or performing the procedure incorrectly aren’t valid excuses for doing nothing, they said. So-called Good Samaritan laws protect bystanders who try to offer assistance.
Former prosecutor Star Jones said facilities have the right to limit their services and, thus, their liabilities. But she added, “The problem then becomes, are we looking at a legal responsibility or is this a social responsibility?” Jones said this nurse “may not go to court, but she does have to go to bed at night, and I’m not sure she’s going to be able sleep well.”
Because anybody could face a similar choice, “every one of us should think hard about what we ought to do when someone needs our help to live,” said bioethicist Arthur Caplan.
- What’s your reaction to this incident? Who, if anyone, do you think is to blame?
- Should the nurse be applauded for sticking to policy during a challenging time, or should she have sidestepped the rule? Explain. If the nurse would have ended up giving the woman CPR, should she have been fired? Why or why not?
- Is it fair to view the nurse as heartless or uncaring? Why or why not? If you were in her shoes, would you have a guilty conscience about the incident? Why or why not?
- How do you feel about the facility’s policy of not providing medical aid during emergencies? If you were the deceased woman’s family member, how would you react to this incident and its unfortunate outcome?
- Describe the degree of responsibility you feel toward others. How much thought have you put into your willingness to provide aid during an emergency? What type of care do you expect from other people, if you’d ever need assistance?
- What measures are you willing to expend—and what risks are you willing to take—for family and friends? for acquaintances? for complete strangers? How, if at all, does the fact that you won’t be held liable for bad outcomes affect your decision-making?
- Why is it often difficult to get involved with other people’s struggles, despite Jesus’ command to love and serve our neighbors? Do you think Jesus expects us to risk our lives trying to save strangers’ lives? Why or why not?
- What are some Good Samaritan-type situations you’ve encountered? What has caused you to either stop and help or to walk on by? How did you feel about yourself afterward?
- What helps you make good spur-of-the-moment decisions, and why?
Scripture links: Leviticus 25:35-38; Isaiah 30:21; Luke 10:25-37; Romans 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; and James 2:8-17.