Editorial

Protecting Good Samaritans

Among the reasons for India’s unacceptably high rate of road accident fatalities is the inability to get timely medical treatment for victims. Official statistics put the number of people who died on the roads in 2015 at 1,46,000. It is reckoned that a larger percentage of them could have been saved had emergency medical treatment been provided immediately. In a report in 2006, the Law Commission estimated that 50 per cent of accident victims would have survived had they got medical attention within an hour. A major impediment to victims obtaining timely help is the fear among bystanders that they could be embroiled in a police investigation or be subjected to harassment due to the legal procedures involved if they chipped in to provide first-aid, ferry the injured to hospital or even call for medical or police assistance. This is why a ‘Good Samaritan’ legal protection is vital. Parliament has not enacted such a law, but thanks to the Supreme Court and a campaign by voluntary organisations, the Centre notified guidelines last year for the protection of those who help accident victims. In January 2016, a Standard Operating Procedure to make these guidelines work was introduced. Now, the Union Road Transport Ministry has added a significant clause under which a Good Samaritan’s affidavit will have the legal force of a statement. If a statement is required, it should be recorded in a single examination. This is applicable only to those who want to be witnesses, for the guidelines say the police should not compel them to disclose their particulars or to be witnesses.

Since many accidents take place along highways, access to the nearest medical facility is not always easy. A factor that discourages bystanders from coming forward to take victims to a hospital is the fear that they would be made to pay admission costs in a hospital or detained there for long hours. A year ago, the Union Health Ministry directed hospitals that they should not detain those who bring accident victims for admission. They should not be required to pay for admission or registration, or asked intrusive questions beyond basic particulars such as names and addresses. Though such guidelines and simplified procedures are welcome, much more needs to be done to encourage people to get involved in the rescue of accident victims. So far, only a few State governments have adopted the Good Samaritan guidelines. All States must get actively involved in their implementation. For it is from the regional domain that those who deal with such situations — the police, doctors, transport officials and magistrates — are drawn. A good deal of sensitisation is needed, and it may help if State governments drew up their own set of rules so that they become committed stakeholders in the cause.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2020 6:15:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Protecting-Good-Samaritans/article14587198.ece

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