Editorial: Good Samaritans

The other day, the Massachusetts House gave initial approval to a Senate-approved bill (S 829) that would protect off-duty firefighters and EMTs from liability when providing emergency care.

That’s necessary, because the current “Good Samaritan” law only protects civilian bystanders who are not trained in emergency response ... trained personnel can be held liable if they make errors while attending to victims on the street, or after a disaster, while not on duty.

The bill, which has been an issue for years, was given new impetus by the Boston Marathon bombings, after which hundreds of off-duty personnel who were running in the race or nearby responded immediately and gave care to the injured.

Under current law, these firefighters, police officers, nurses, doctors and EMTs would have been liable if anything went wrong as a result of their efforts to provide care.

So-called “Good Samaritan” laws have been around for decades, with different states each having their own versions. They get their name from a parable by Jesus related in the Bible, in which a Samaritan — a member of a rival Jewish community from northern Israel — stopped to render aid to an injured man after those of his own sect had passed him by. At the time, both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught that it was wrong for those of their own group to even speak to one of the other.

Since then, the term has come to mean anyone who stops to help a stranger.

While it’s true that mistakes are sometimes made by passersby attempting to help victims of an accident or other incident — sometimes ones serious enough to permanently harm the patient — nonetheless a protective shield is for the greater good.

And it’s also true that some accident or disaster scenes are often so chaotic that even trained people can be affected.

This bill should be passed by the Legislature.

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