EMT faces criminal charges after reportedly failing to provide care

Melissa Jackson, a New York City EMT, was recently charged with official misconduct for reportedly failing to provide care to a pregnant woman who later died.
Jackson and her partner, Jason Green, were on a coffee break at a Brooklyn Au Bon Pain when workers apparently notified them of an employee — a six-month pregnant woman named Eutisha Rennix — who needed medical assistance. What happened next is under dispute.  Jackson’s lawyer says that Jackson, an EMT dispatcher, immediately called for an ambulance, and that both EMTs remained on the scene until help arrived. He also says that Jackson and Green never saw Rennix, who remained in the back of the store.

Witnesses say that Jackson and Greene called the ambulance, then left after being asked to help Rennix, who had collapsed. Rennix later died as a result of an asthma attack. Her baby did not survive its premature birth.

Rennix’s family is currently suing the city for wrongful death. “We want to let this arrest set an example for the EMS workers across the country — that if you fail to respond, you will be criminally prosecuted,” the family’s lawyer said. (Jackson has not been named in any suits or investigations, as he died in an unrelated incident earlier this year.)

The case has opened up a debate about healthcare workers’ duty to respond. Jackson and Greene were EMTs with the New York Fire Department; according to the NYFD, all members take an oath to help others whenever emergency medical care is needed. But what does “help others” encompass? Are healthcare workers – nurses, EMTs — every really “off duty?”

The Nurse’s Legal Handbook states that the only people with a legal duty to provide care in an emergency situation are those who perform rescues as part of their jobs — emergency responders, police, firefighters, etc. Nurses are not presumed to have a legal duty to provide care –  except in a handful of states (Vermont, Wisconsin, Rhode Island and Minnesota) that have “duty to rescue” laws.

What do you think? Do all healthcare professionals have a moral obligation to respond to medical emergencies? Should that moral imperative be codified into law? Why or why not?

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