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The Good Samaritan – Influencing Government Strategy

I was told, quite confidently, by a member of the dental profession the other day that there was a Good Samaritan Act in this country. Effectively, this ‘Act’ meant that if you came across a person in trouble, and you stopped to help them, you would not find yourself in trouble if you consequently made their condition worse or even killed them.

I asked from where they had learned this information, and they mentioned two separate training courses provided by two separate training companies to a local dental practice.

This worried me somewhat.

Not least because there is no such thing and they had clearly been misled not once, but twice, by somebody who presumably had been paid to educate them properly.

Yes, in the USA, Canada and some European countries, there is a Good Samaritan Act. For example, it is a criminal offence in Germany not to stop and provide first aid to a person in trouble. But the ‘Samaritan’ will not face prosecution if they make the situation worse in doing so. The authorities believe that this encourages passers-by to help in any way possible, even if success is not necessarily the end-result.

After all, “it is better to try and to fail than to fail to try and forever experience the inestimable loss of what might have been” … isn’t it?

But there is no such law in the United Kingdom. If you see someone choking in a restaurant and, in good faith, perform the Heimlich manoeuvre incorrectly, thus inadvertently killing your fellow diner, you open yourself up to a criminal prosecution or to being sued. Of course, the prosecuting authorities may decide that it is not in the public interest to prosecute you but, that aside, the risk remains. In Germany however, you’d be prosecuted for failing to try and help and ‘immune’ from a manslaughter allegation.

No matter how much I protested that the training companies were wrong, it was a sign of how resolutely the dental professional believed what they’d been told insofar as they didn’t believe my version (I am, after all, only a qualified solicitor!).

But perhaps that is all about to change. In something that could well have been announced in Gotham City or Metropolis today, the Queen’s Speech in Parliament announced proposals for a Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill in England and Wales (sorry Scotland, it’s not for you).

Although the wording of the proposed Bill hasn’t yet been published in detail, the outline suggests that ‘Good Samaritans’ will avoid legal action if they had behaved responsibly or taken heroic action for the benefit of the wider society in order to help people in danger.

No doubt the next time I bump into that dental professional, the words “told you so” may crop up in the conversation. Although if I am ever in peril in the dental chair, I’d hope the nearest dental professional would rush to my aid, regardless of whether the new Bill has passed into law.

Because ultimately, everyone loves a hero…

 

These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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