A View from the Hill
Representative Casey's "View From the Hill" can be found on the web at
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 29, 2000
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
"HELPING GOOD SAMARITANS HELPS ALL OF US"
There is a popular belief amongst foreigners that Americans are just plain rude. I challenge that supposition wholeheartedly. My staff and I (having recently traveled to places such as Central America, Germany, Italy, and Austria) have concluded that despite what others may say about our manners, Americans can actually be very polite. We might not think this to be true while fighting for survival on the Southeast Expressway at 5:00, but generally speaking, our manners are just as good- if not better- than those of other nations.
Most of the time, for example, Americans will say "excuse me" if they accidentally bump into someone. Such a custom is not necessarily shared by our European brethren, who sometimes forget to offer a "scusi" even after pushing their way through a crowded hallway.
For those of you who think that New York City is "anti-pedestrian," I wish you the best of luck when attempting to cross the street in a foreign country. While we have crosswalks and tough state laws protecting pedestrians, Darwin's theory of "survival of the fittest" is the modus operandi in other parts of the world.
The fact that Americans have relatively decent manners, of course, does not imply that we are a nation of "do-gooders." But it does reflect our particularly "American" concept of the individual, which is embedded in our political philosophy. Since we have a deep respect for ourselves as individuals, we also tend to respect others. Thus, more often than not, we are willing to lend a hand to our fellow human beings in times of need.
In order to allow citizens to act upon their better natures, several states have enacted laws named after the Biblical parable, the "Good Samaritan." As many of us already know, the Good Samaritan stopped to help someone on the road who had been accosted by bandits. What this man did for a complete stranger is not different than what people do today, such as pulling over on Interstate 93 to assist a stranded motorist, or shoveling a neighbor's steps after a snowstorm.
"Good Samaritan" legislation essentially gives legal protection to those who provide emergency care to ill or injured persons, as did the Samaritan in the Bible. It was developed to encourage people to help others in desperate situations without fear of legal consequences. If you ever watch television programs like "C.O.P.S." or "Rescue 911," you will find that civilians are often the first ones to respond to emergency situations. Their actions greatly assist the trained professionals who arrive moments later.
Good Samaritan laws do not necessarily give a person carte blanche freedom to do anything to someone in distress. Rather, they require that one act both reasonably and prudently. One cannot, for example, be immune from liability if he or she is grossly negligent or reckless when performing a life-saving act. Generally speaking, however, the rescuer is given the benefit of the doubt when trying to save the life of another.
Good Samaritan laws are important because they lessen the inhibitions of those who want to help people in distress, but might hesitate in light of the fact that some people in our society would sue their grandmothers if they could. The laws permit people to act upon their natural instincts to help out in an emergency.
In the Massachusetts Legislature, we have recognized the importance of our citizens' generosity by updating Good Samaritan legislation to keep with changing trends. In 1998, I co-sponsored a bill with several other legislators that extended liability protections to persons using automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in the event of cardiac arrest. The bill, which was signed into law, has permitted AEDs to be used widely by people who have received training according to the standards of the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association.
Last November, we passed another bill (also signed into law) which further expands the use of AEDs, providing even greater access to these lifesaving devices.
With the laws now in full effect, people who go into cardiac arrest do not have to wait for EMTs to arrive on the scene to receive proper care. Since defibrillators can now be kept on hand in places like office buildings- where paramedics often have difficulty reaching victims in time- thousands of lives are being saved every year.
Incidentally, we have had quite a few instances right here at the State House where people have needed a defibrillator to get their hearts beating again. Thanks to the quick responses of our MDC Park Rangers (who have since been trained to use defibrillators), lives were saved within shouting distance of my office. How fitting it is that legislators see the results of their hard work right in front of their faces!
As accidents always happen when we are least expecting them, any one of us could find ourselves in a situation where our lives, or those of someone we love, depend on the generosity of others. A sudden curve in the road or a crack in ice on the pond can put our own survival into the hands of a complete stranger. For this reason, we must do everything in our power to allow these kind individuals to help us to the best of their abilities.
Good Samaritan legislation is but one of several ways in which lawmakers can empower citizens to act according to their better nature. Legislators benefit from these laws when they see lives being saved that would have otherwise been lost. "Good Samaritans" benefit from the legal protections guaranteed by the letter of the law. But in the end, citizens themselves gain the most from these laws, as they permit strangers to preserve something that can never be replaced: the life of a human being.