Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's your call....isn't it???

Okay, so a little background, I work in a rural doctors office. It's a family practice and we see newborns to geriatric. We're in Vermont, but we straddle the New York line. The closest hospital in Vermont is a half hour drive , and the nearest to us in New York is about a forty-five minute drive. Of course this is on a nice sunny day when there isn't three feet of snow on the ground.

So, we see our fair share of emergencies. The nearby slate quarries are for ever sending us their lacerated workers. We see chainsaw and power tool accidents, and we even had treated a guy who had climbed up a ladder while carrying his nail gun. Bad idea, that. He shot a nail straight through his heart, and his buddy thought it was a good idea to bring him to us instead of calling 911. He ended up with open-heart surgery and is fine now, but those were some tense moments while we waited for the squad and tried to stabilize him. One of our doctors actually road in the squad with him.

So anyway, you get the idea that we are kind of secluded as far as a disaster goes. We are the nearby high school's physician. Therefore, the three times there were bus accidents , they came to us. We processed thirty children in under an hour.

Yesterday I attended a meeting on disaster preparedness.

We were given different scenarios to contemplate, and I believe we’re pretty well prepared. But, one gentleman brought up a moral dilemma. We were talking about people coming in from a boating accident at one of the area lakes. We got to discussing if they were drinking and when our responsibility for calling the law comes in.

For me, it's an easy choice. If they are a danger to themselves or others , then you call. If they had all been drinking, you don't let them leave. If they have a driver and are okay, they can go.

This one guy though seemed to suggest patients wouldn't seek medical attention if they injured themselves doing something illegal if they were afraid we would call the police.

Frankly, in my opinion, that's on them. But then he said..."Well , what if one of your children were at a party drinking and they consumed too much and had alcohol poisoning. Would you want his friends to be afraid to bring him to the hospital or seek medical care because they were afraid of the potential legal consequences?”

Well, put it that way, no. But where do you draw the line? What is your responsibility, morally, ethically and civically?

I don't want someone under the influence on the road, and I can't in good consciousness let someone who is impaired leave this office. But I can kind of see this guy’s point of view.



  1. Debbie, I think this is a situation where I would get legal advice and not take it upon yourself to make that decision and be sued if you "decide" wrong. Find out what the law is in your state.

  2. Good point, Miriam. We are governed by HIPPA, therefore could give no information regaurding health issues. Would need to find out about safety issues though.

  3. I have a 12 year old and a 17 year old and if ANYONE could help them if they were intoxicated or drugged out, I would want them to call the police or call me or whatever to help my kids out. That said, I believe people should be medically treated whether they're out-of-it or not, with regard to drugs or alcohol. And I wouldn't let them leave the office without a safe ride home. Calling the police I think should come in IF those same people being treated caused harm to anyone, including themselves.

  4. Good question and not one with an easy answer. You definitely cannot knowingly let someone who is under the influence leave your office and drive. But you'd want your kid's friends to bring him to the hospital and not be afraid of recriminations. If a guy came in who was drunk, but his friends weren't and you knew he wouldn't be driving, no problem. If someone has an accident, boating or car, and he's drunk and he was driving, you have to call the authorities and you can't let him drive drunk. I think that's what it comes down to.

  5. That is a real dilemma. However, I tend to go with getting legal advice. Having said that, I'd treat the person and then call the parents. If the law is that you must call the police, then I think I'd do that.

    How would the friends, parents, etc. feel if you didn't report it and then one of the children ended up dead because they went ahead and drove inebriated another time?


  6. You do it. If you are a licensed medical person, it's your job. As for moral, On the young girl's tomb next to my mother's it reads; A drunk driver put me here. She was eight years old. I read it every time I visit my mom and it makes my heart ache because somebody forgot to stop that man from driving his car one night while he was intoxicated. I say make the call. He's going to be pissed, but maybe a little girl will be alive.

  7. I totally agree, Patti. That was almost to the word what I said at the meeting.

  8. Makes sense Cara. Those are my feelings as well. I understood where this guy was coming from, but you can't knowingly let an impared person drive.

  9. Agreed, Dorie. Thanks for popping by and sharing your thoughts. And, my sympathies for your mother and the little girl.