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February 28, 1977

Every Bystander a Standby

JAMA. 1977;237(9):898. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03270360060022

The bystander who witnesses a crime without coming to the victim's aid is legally innocent. There are no legal constraints on considerations of personal safety. Whether the witness is morally absolved of all guilt is, however, another matter. The verdict depends on the individual conscience and the moral drummer to whose beat it is attuned.

Personal safety does not usually enter into consideration when a bystander witnesses a cardiopulmonary collapse. Nevertheless, some laymen are reluctant to initiate resuscitation, even though they may have been taught how to do it. The reluctance is understandable. It is based on fears of litigation and on a widespread notion that only physicians or trained paramedical personnel can be entrusted with the awesome responsibility of saving lives. How valid are these notions and fears?

McIntyre and Hampton1 conducted an extensive search of legal, medical, and lay literature, as well as personal inquiries and solicitations