Are 911 Dispatchers at Fault if a Caller Who Initially Reports a Medical Problem and Requests Assistance Changes His Mind, Says, “I’m Fine” and Later Dies?
By Ken K. Gourdin
In a recent column, Salt Lake Tribune columnist Paul Rolly is critical of the confusion and buck-passing that apparently played a role in the death of a man whose cell-phone 911 call was routed to the incorrect dispatch center: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/politics/57478299-90/lake-911-salt-sandy.html.csp (last accessed today). Yes, I believe everything reasonably possible should be done to unify and streamline response to emergency calls and to prevent buck-passing and infighting among agencies.
Rolly’s column, however, downplays what I believe is a critical point, as I pointed out in an on line comment at SLTrib.com:
While I agree that changes to the system are probably necessary, as well as that this call may have been mishandled, the fact of the matter is that yes, someone saying he’s feeling better might be a reason for medics to not respond: Even if it goes against the best medical advice in the world (and no matter who agrees or disagrees with this state of affairs), absent an imminent, credible threat of harm to self or others, no one can be forced to go to the hospital against his wishes, nor can he be forced to get treatment. If he says, “Thanks, I’m feeling better. No, I don’t want to go to the hospital,” that’s the end of it. It doesn’t matter who thinks refusing treatment is a bad idea, that’s the end of it.
Update, February 7, 2014: Another poster pointed out that, for liability reasons, emergency personnel likely still would respond even if our possible heart-attack victim called to cancel the response. While I agree, that observation doesn’t overturn my original point: medics may still respond, and may have their reluctant patient sign a release stating that he had refused treatment, but they still cannot force him to accept treatment or to be transported to the hospital.