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Do we legally have to stop and help someone in danger?

Right now, not really.

Image: Shutterstock/Photographee.eu

LAST MONTH, A 23-year-old woman stopped two men from harassing teenage girls in Germany.

Tugce Albayrak overheard them crying in the bathroom of a McDonalds, and intervened.

According to DW.de, she was attacked soon afterwards by one of the men, fell, and hit her head on a stone.

She fell into a coma, and her parents switched off her life-support earlier this month.

Tugce’s death sparked some renewed debate on the issue of so-called ‘duty to rescue’ laws.

Car crash

In some countries, such as France, it is an offence to not help someone who has been injured – for example, it would be illegal to drive past a car crash if there wasn’t an ambulance at the scene.

A person is generally exempt from having to do is if the helping the person would put their own life at risk, or if they are reasonably unable to help due to another factor.

But it this the case in Ireland?

Right now, not really, as long as there was no previously established duty of care (for example, employers being required to provide first aid assistance to employees).

You must also report car crashes to the gardaí, and alert authorities if you become aware of child abuse.

There is, however, some leeway for good samaritans – someone who comes to the assistance of an injured bystander.

Crime victim

This didn’t exist in Irish law until 2011. Before the Civil Law Bill 2011, a person who tried to assist someone else in peril, whether a crime victim or involved in an accident, could have been legally liable for if they made the person’s injuries worse.

The Law Reform Commission advised against including a duty to rescue clause in this, something the Government took into consideration.

A 2009 report, the commission concluded that “it was unlikely that any such duty would promote volunteering or active citizenship”.

“Indeed, the groups consulted by the Commission indicated that imposing any such duty might have the opposite effect,” they said.

The Order of Malta, one of Ireland’s largest first aid organisations, said they would not call for it to be made law, and would rather focus on empowering people and giving them the confidence to help out in emergencies.

The LRC’s reasons against introducing a duty to rescue range from personal freedom being infringed to the complications arising from combining morals and laws.

Speaking in the Dáil in 2010, before his time as Minister for Communications, Labour TD Pat Rabbitte noted that some professions may actually impose a duty to rescue obligation. He noted the Medial Councils’ Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics:

You should provide care in emergencies unless you are satisfied that alternative arrangements have been made. You should also consider what assistance you can safely give in the event of a major incident, a road traffic accident, fire, drowning or other similar occurrences.

In both 2013 and 2012, there were four complaints relating to that paragraph of the guide.

Read: Outrage as student dies after confronting men who were harassing teens >

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About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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