'Is There a Doctor on Board?' Keeping Quiet vs Stepping Up

Shelly Reese


September 17, 2015

In This Article

Legal Protection for Good Samaritans

In addition to medications and tools, "medically qualified" professionals who volunteer in good faith and receive no monetary compensation have Good Samaritan liability protection under the Air Carrier Access Act of 1998.

The act specifies:

An individual shall not be liable for damages in any action brought in a Federal or State court arising out of the acts or omissions of the individual in providing or attempting to provide assistance in the case of an in-flight medical emergency unless the individual, while rendering such assistance, is guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct.[3]

If Not You, Then Who?

Stepping forward to help a fellow passenger is nerve-wracking, doctors say: Not only are you not in doctor mode when the call goes out, but you don't know the nature of the emergency to which you're responding.

But Drs Tanz and Lazarin say that the ethical imperative to help outweighs those concerns.

"We talk a lot about the medical/legal side of being a doctor," says Dr Lazarin. "But for most physicians there is a moral and ethical question here. I think the question is not so much, 'Do I provide my services or not?' but 'Is this within my scope and do I have the skills?'"

To that question, Dr Alves says, the answer is, "Yes."

In-flight patient care is based on a synergistic model, he says. Physicians on the ground are ready to direct the care, but they can do so much more effectively if they have help from trained passengers. "In the synergistic model, anyone can help. The ground support needs a trained set of eyes and hands; a dentist or a veterinarian can help because they are better trained than the average member of the public, but you don't need to be out of your comfort zone."


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