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Add medical amnesty to du Lac

| Friday, September 20, 2013

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, “more than two dozen [Indiana] students under the age of 21 have lost their lives due to alcohol poisoning since 2004.” In July 2012, Indiana responded to this statistic by enacting the Lifeline Law, which gives individuals immunity from police action if they are intoxicated but actively seeking medical help for a person with alcohol-related injuries or complications.
Notre Dame recently instituted the Office of Community Standards (OCS) to replace the Office of Residence Life. However, the procedural changes that OCS implemented do not include or mention a medical amnesty policy guaranteeing students the same immunity the Indiana Lifeline Law gives citizens. A minor can still face disciplinary action from the University if he or she is caught for possession, consumption or transportation of alcohol. Any student, regardless of age, can confront disciplinary consequences for public intoxication.
Several nearby universities, such as Indiana University, Purdue and Ball State, have implemented medical amnesty clauses in their student codes of conduct. Additionally, our sister school, Saint Mary’s College, observes medical amnesty and actively educates incoming students about this policy.
Gannett Health Services conducted and published a study of Cornell University’s medical amnesty policy (MAP) in 2006. According to the resulting research paper published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, “Results include consecutive increases in alcohol-related calls for assistance to emergency medical services during the two-year period. Survey results suggest that, following initiation of the MAP, students were less likely to report fear of getting an intoxicated person in trouble as a barrier to calling for help.”
Notre Dame’s student government is pushing for the University to add a medical amnesty clause to “du Lac: A Guide to Student Life.”
“It is not a new issue, but the Indiana Lifeline Law adds a new component that will hopefully help us look at medical amnesty through a new lens,” student body president Alex Coccia said. “We want there to be absolutely no hesitation in calling for help if you see a person in need of medical attention.”   
With these signs pointing to the benefits of medical amnesty policies, the University’s administration still resists implementing them at Notre Dame. Administrators argue the University does not need such a policy because students at a Catholic institution should not need the promise of amnesty in order to act as good Samaritans, but rather, should do so because it is morally correct. They also assert the individualized disciplinary outcomes that OCS uses should absolve students’ fear of helping peers who need medical attention.
However, because the University does not guarantee disciplinary immunity, some students still may hesitate when deciding whether to seek help for a peer who needs medical attention. If the Office of Community Standards’ first priority is students’ safety, it should follow its sister school by implementing a medical amnesty policy to ensure that students do not hesitate to protect one another.