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Implement Good Samaritan policies at ND

| Friday, March 27, 2015

One night in January of my junior year, I was roped into a walkover to a dorm on the south half of campus to pick up a passed-out friend of mine. After a fragmented night of hopping dorm parties, he had wound up basically unresponsive on a futon, his head resting eight inches above a trashcan on the knee of an Eagle Scout who was trying unsuccessfully to make him throw up.

We talked about what to do. He could probably sleep it off. His pulse was slow but regular. His skin wasn’t cold or discolored. But he was unable to talk, and his eyes were dead-looking. Rolling the dice with a friend’s life and health is no way to conduct business, so we determined that the best thing to do was to call for help.

If I told you that we never talked about our friend (and us) getting disciplined in the 10-minute discussion we had about whether to call in the ARs, RAs and EMTs, I’d be telling you a lie.

In 2012, Indiana joined 15 other states in guarding against this thinking when it passed the “Lifeline Law.” In plain terms the law gives minors immunity for alcohol-related offenses if the reason they encounter police is because they called for medical attention, or because medical attention was sought for them.

As of 2013, more than 240 American colleges have implemented “medical amnesty” and “Good Samaritan” policies affording these protections to students on their campuses. The latter protects the individual who calls for help from prosecution while the former protects the individual needing help.

Neither of these policies exist explicitly in du Lac. They should.

Brian Coughlin, Assistant VP of Student Affairs, Women’s Club Water Polo coach and very nice guy, articulated the University’s position to The Observer in 2012: “It is hard to fathom one Notre Dame student acting so much out of a perceived self-interest that they may not help a fellow student in need because they are more worried about potential discipline … I recall one statement that questioned what kind of place Notre Dame would become if we have to start legislating and putting conditions on care and compassion for one another.”

I too have an optimistic view of the Notre Dame student body, and in the few other times I have seen someone carted off in an ambulance for alcohol poisoning, ND students have put disciplinary concerns aside to do the right thing.

But why risk it? Why build in disincentives to do the right thing?

Contra Mr. Coughlin’s argument, Notre Dame does legislate good behavior. Whatever their legitimate communitarian aims, parietals exist and no one is going to deny their connection to Catholic moral teachings on sex. The same can be said for our stringent policies on marijuana use.

There’s no discernible downside to explicitly implementing medical amnesty and Good Samaritan policies and no reason to believe that doing so would turn Notre Dame into an anarchist nihilist booze mecca. According to the International Journal of Drug Policy, when Cornell implemented Good Samaritan and medical amnesty policies in 2000, the number of students saying they did not call to help a sick person because they were afraid of getting the person in trouble decreased two-and-a-half times. Meanwhile, the amount of binge-drinking on campus stayed the same, which is unsurprising, because nobody really goes into a night aspiring to black out and wind up in the hospital. Cornell also smartly maintained punishments for causing or threatening physical harm, sexual violence, property damage, fake IDs, hazing and so on, ensuring that medical necessity can’t be used as a cover for other wrong behavior.

Notre Dame students and student governments have been advocating medical amnesty and Good Samaritan policies with varying degrees of strength since 2010. Partially because the University only reviews du Lac every three years, these sensible policies have never gotten off the ground. The proper response is not just to implement Good Samaritan and medical amnesty when du Lac is reviewed next year, but also to open up disciplinary reviews to stronger and more frequent student input. Giving residence halls more latitude for first offenses when the Office of Community Standards came to be was a good place to start. A good place to continue would be opening du Lac to binding and nonbinding referenda.

If student referenda seem out of character with Notre Dame, we need only look a couple decades into the past. The desegregation of dorms based on class year and shift to “stay-halls” as they were called then came out of a 1967 binding student referendum. In 1970, students rejected the idea of changing the academic calendar to give students two weeks off leading up to Congressional elections, again with a binding referendum. In March 1990, 80 percent of students voted to create co-ed residence halls for upperclassmen. That one didn’t get far.

But if you had a referendum today on Good Samaritan policies it would pass with overwhelming majorities. Such a policy is sensible, safe, proven effective and consonant with our University’s mission. Let’s open up some policy windows and make it happen.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Alex Caton

Alex is a junior political science major living in the caves and ditches of St. Edward's Hall. He has written for the Viewpoint section since spring 2013

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