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Medical amnesty: How are we to go and do likewise?

Editorial Board | Thursday, January 26, 2012

Imagine yourself at a dorm party this weekend.

You’ve been there for a couple hours, and you’ve noticed a girl — let’s call her Amy — who seems to be a few drinks too deep.

You have also been imbibing, and you happen to be under the legal drinking age of 21 years.

As the night goes on, you talk with Amy and find out she is a student at Saint Mary’s. You also notice Amy begin to slur her words, her eyes look out of focus and, by the end of the party, you notice Amy slumped alone on a couch.

What do you do? What goes through your mind? What are your priorities?

Your buddy comes over and you point out Amy to him. Knowing the possible consequences of an underage drinking ticket, he suggests you leave Amy alone and continue enjoying the party. Another friend comes over, motions to Amy, and laughs.

But you know something must be done. Her life is in danger and you are the only one with seemingly enough sense to get her help. Then again, you’re not 21. And you’re drunk.

This is the situation addressed by the medical amnesty policies in existence at more than 90 schools across the country.

Notre Dame is not one of them.

Participating institutions include Duke, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and MIT — all schools Notre Dame proudly calls peers. The list also includes St. John’s, Texas Christian, St. Lawrence and Benedictine — all universities sharing Notre Dame’s commitment to Christian ideals of neighborly love and assistance.

Even more interestingly, our sister school across the street — founded by the same Catholic order which founded Notre Dame — maintains a medical amnesty policy, which protects the student who is sick or injured from getting in trouble, and a Good Samaritan protection policy, which protects the student who seeks help for the student in need. Saint Mary’s adopted the policy to ensure student safety is the first priority.

And yet, Notre Dame chose not to include some form of a medical amnesty policy in its revisions to du Lac, the student handbook, in 2010.

In his inaugural address, University President Fr. John Jenkins insisted, “The world needs a university that graduates men and women who are not only capable and knowledgeable, but who accept their responsibility to serve others — especially those in the greatest need.”

Without a medical amnesty policy and a Good Samaritan policy, Notre Dame risks its mission to provide a residential life that “endeavors to develop that sense of community and of responsibility that prepares students for subsequent leadership in building a society that is at once more human and more divine.”

What sense of responsibility is fostered by an atmosphere of fear and danger? How are leaders supposed to act when faced with the possibility their responsible actions may get them into trouble with the University? How does Notre Dame foster a sense of community by preventing students from helping their peers because they’re afraid of the consequences?

Those of us who went to Catholic schools as children learned about the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s gospel. Three men come across a traveler who has been attacked by robbers and left for dead on a road. A priest and a Levite pass the man by and offer him no assistance. Then a Samaritan comes across the man, offers him help, takes him to an inn to recover, and pays for his lodging; the Good Samaritan.

Let’s go back to that hypothetical party in Carroll.

You determine that it is up to you to get Amy medical help. So you call NDSP and several officers and an ambulance respond and take Amy away — possibly saving her life. She recovers and thanks you and she does not get into trouble under Saint Mary’s current medical amnesty policy.

Unfortunately, with Notre Dame’s current policies, you still do face the consequences of your underage drinking. You may get a ticket for consumption and spend the night at the local jail. Or you may be called to testify at a Residence Life meeting and have the violation added to your personal file.


As Jesus recounts the parable in Luke, he asks those gathered around him which man in the story was a neighbor to the man who was attacked. An expert in the law replied that the most neighborly man was the Samaritan “who had mercy on him.”

Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37 NIV)


Notre Dame does not allow its students to do likewise. Good Samaritans are only “good” as long as they themselves are free of guilt. Otherwise, they are culpable for their own actions even if those actions pale in comparison to their selfless assistance to others.

Notre Dame needs a medical amnesty policy. Our students deserve the freedom from fear when living out their Catholic mission and protecting their neighbors.