Medical Treatments

Docs, Nurses and EMTs Can Never be 'On Break'

| by Toni Brayer MD

A few weeks before Christmas, Eutisha Rennix, a pregnant restaurant worker, collapsed while working. She started having a seizure, and her co-workers were screaming for help. There were two EMT workers in line at Au Bon Pain shop in Brooklyn, and they refused to help. They told on-lookers to call 911, and they walked out of the store after picking up their bagels, presumably because they were on a coffee break. An ambulance was called, and the 25-year-old woman and her baby girl died shortly afterward. She is survived by a 3-year-old son.

A spokesman for the FDNY said members "take an oath to assist others whenever they are in need of emergency medical care. It is their sworn duty."

That was the last we heard about that horrific story until today. Jason Green, the EMT who refused to help, was fatally shot near a New York City nightclub last night. Police believe the shooting was unrelated to the coffee shop incident.

There is no question in my mind that those of us who have a skill that can potentially save lives should never be "on a break" in life. See my prior post on Good Samaritans and the risks involved.  I also wrote about helping a man on a flight I was on. Surprisingly, not every health professional feels this way, and apparently these paramedics felt their coffee break was sacrosanct time.

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Altruistic behavior is found throughout the animal kingdom and is thought to have a genetic link.  Are we hardwired for altruism or for selfishness? One study showed that altering a single gene in a species of bacteria turned resource "cheaters" into cooperative organisms. And environmental stress promoted a genetic change that favored cooperation.

It is a complicated subject, and I've never seen a study on health care professionals and their Good Samaritan or altruistic tendencies. It would be interesting to see if people act in ways that are congruent with their views on being a Good Samaritan, or if they chose to take their coffee and leave when the chips are down.