It’s a wonder that anyone comes to the aid of a person in distress in
our society. Our legal system not only fails to impose a duty to
rescue on individuals, it holds individuals who choose to try to help
someone liable for any damages they may cause during their rescue
attempt. Despite this, we still hear stories of such heroism on a
daily basis. How can we explain these “irrational” decisions to
rescue? The answer is that, despite our legal systems best efforts to
the contrary, people still feel a moral obligation to those in peril
and will risk personal liability to do what is right.
One can barely open a newspaper without reading a story about a heroic
stranger who saved someone in danger. One recent example was the story
of Fabrice Muamba, and the doctor who came to his rescue. On March 18,
Fabrice Muamba, who plays for Bolton in the English Premiere League,
was playing in a match against Tottenham. Dr. Deaner, a well-respected
cardiologist, was watching the match from the stands. Muamba suddenly
collapsed on the pitch for no apparent reason. Medical personnel
rushed out to him, but were uncertain what had happened.
Dr. Deaner immediately recognized the signs of severe cardiac arrest
and raced down to the pitch. He fought past security guards, shouting
that he was a doctor and knew what to do, and ran out onto the field
to deliver care to Muamba. Dr. Deaner continued life saving treatment
until the ambulance arrived, and then accompanied Muamba in the
ambulance to the hospital. An expert cardiologist was quoted as
saying, “The thing that was most vital was how quickly [Muamba]
received treatment.” There is no doubt that were it not for Dr.
Deaner, Fabrice Muamba would have died.
What Dr. Deaner did was undoubtedly a “dumb” decision from our legal
system’s perspective. By simply staying quiet, absolutely no legal or
financial harm could have come to Dr. Deaner; he would have had no
risk of liability in our system. By stepping onto the pitch and trying
to help Muamba, Dr. Deaner instead exposed himself to all sorts of
legal liability. But considering his decision to be “illogical”
ignores the profound moral duties that individuals still feel towards
one another. It ignores the important role that morals play in our
lives more generally. Dr. Deaner is trained to save people who were
having heart attacks; it is what he decided to do with his life. It
didn’t matter whether there were concrete barriers or legal barriers
in his way, there was simply no way that Dr. Deaner was going to let
Muamba die when he could do something about it. We should be thankful
that there are still so many “irrational” people out there. I am sure
that Fabrice Muamba is.