American Bystander Rule vs. “Good Samaritan” Doctrine Essay + Sources

Over time our society has developed a set of unspoken rules towards how to behave in social situations, these rules stem from a general consensus on the morality scale; many of these rules have become written in some way or form to create a set structural guideline as to what is or is not allowed in the form of laws to prohibit and punish acts such as murder, public indecency, theft, just to name a few. Similarly, certain aspects of society have become generally accepted practice but due to certain sociologically based issues that create situations where a person’s inaction may result in legal consequences. Due to the presence of effects such as the bystander effect, in which people may be less likely to act when in the presence of others based on the assumption their action is not needed because someone else may take care of the situation, and other situations involving individual apathy have sparked a need for two separate legal clauses to differentiate liability for the consequences of inaction; these clauses are the “Good Samaritan” doctrine and the American Bystander rule.

The “Good Samaritan” doctrine was designed to include liability caused by inaction, as defined by common law the “Good Samaritan” doctrine “imposes a legal duty to render or summon aid for imperiled strangers.” In layman’s terms the “Good Samaritan” doctrine makes it mandatory to at least attempt to summon aid for an individual in peril, a task most people would do regardless unless under the most dire of situations that would prevent them from doing so. Use of the “Good Samaritan” doctrine is of the minority; as it stands most states feel the moral burden to summon or render aid is enough to motivate an individual to action.

Conversely to the “Good Samaritan” doctrine we have the American Bystander rule; this rule eliminates criminal liability to those who do not summon or render aid. American Bystander rule, as defined by common law, imposes no legal duty to rescue or summon aid for someone imperiled even if doing so poses no risk to the potential rescuer; in layman’s terms the American Bystander rule states that one can choose inaction over aiding or calling aid for an individual, regardless of the conveniences of doing so. As the use of the American Bystander rule is the choice of the majority it speaks wonders about the mentality of our society; as it stands the American Bystander rule justifies inaction with the same mentality that the moral burden is enough to provoke action but does not incriminate individuals who do not act.

Because there is a crossroads posed by the existence of two completely opposite legal possibilities there must be a logical reason behind using one over another. Is it better to have a defined punishment for not rendering aid, as posed by the “Good Samaritan” doctrine, or is it better to have faith in the morality of the individual, as offered by the American Bystander rule? Many elements of society have changed to the point where both legal applications are rendered almost entirely moot by the developments of new technologies and increased awareness of basic emergency situation protocol.

On one hand thanks to technology, specifically the invention of cheap, portable cellular devices that most people possess, the ability to summon aid for an individual should pose absolutely zero inconvenience to the would be savior; this would make the failure to adhere to the “Good Samaritan” doctrine an almost impossibility while simultaneously giving no real reason for one to not act in the case of the American Bystander rule. While being forced to action so that one may adhere to the “Good Samaritan” doctrine would be easily dismissed due to the convenience of cellular devices the simple fact that one could be punished for a choice to not act goes against the freedom of choice that we as Americans hold so dearly; moral burden caused by the inaction should suffice to punish the individual enough for such a transgression. Use of the American Bystander rule would keep true to the freedom of choice by allowing the choice of inaction; in many cases the choice of inaction might be the best choice available, notably in cases where those without proper training attempt to render aid and actually cause more harm than good through improper attempts at providing help and situations where collected efforts of summoning aid bog down the process of summoning aid.

In the end the choice to act or the choice to refrain from action provide two separate routes for legal procedures that pose restrictions on the freedom of choice. Due to the prevalence of technology it should be within reason that the ability to summon proper aid is but a stone throw away and, with the exception of the most morally depraved individuals, would be a moral obligation for most individuals. Punishment for failure to summon aid for strangers should be left to the person’s moral burden, more damage than good could come from botched attempts at providing aid and the legal system if bogged down with enough cases as is. Both the American Bystander rule and the “Good Samaritan” doctrine hold little water as, while it is a morally deplorable act to not attempt to summon aid, it should not hold legal consequence for choosing not to summon aid; the same said about attempting to give aid, as it is entirely possible for poorly executed attempts to make a situation worse.

Works Cited


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