Health and wellness

Hongkongers’ reluctance to provide first aid in emergencies prompts call for ‘Good Samaritan law’ to protect those who help

  • Advocates for legislation cite studies that show less willingness to administer to strangers than elsewhere in the region
  • They say proposed law would indemnify first aid providers against prosecution and also safeguard against abusive practices
PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 4:16pm

Medical professionals on Monday called for a “Good Samaritan law” in Hong Kong to protect those who step up to perform emergency treatment on those in need, saying city residents are much less willing to give first aid than people in neighbouring regions.

Dr Ho Hiu-fai, a member of the non-governmental Resuscitation Council, said previous studies found that only 16.6 per cent of Hongkongers said they would give first aid in an emergency, much lower than about 40 per cent in Japan and South Korea.

Ho said that first aid rates in Singapore and Taiwan were also higher than in Hong Kong.

“There are many reasons [for the low rate], including whether there is a Good Samaritan law, as well as education,” Ho said on an RTHK radio programme on Monday. “These two factors are important.”

Even among those who had received first aid training, only 40 per cent said they would actually perform it on strangers, Ho added.

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He said Hong Kong should learn from similar legal regimes such as Australia and Britain, where bystanders who give first aid are protected from subsequent lawsuits from those they help or those people’s relatives, if the treatment has unintended results.

Calls for legislation followed the launch in August of a first aid mascot by the Fire Services Department encouraging Hongkongers to step up and help people in need during an emergency.

A series of quirky videos in which a mannequin-like figure named Anyone, clad head-to-toe in blue spandex, teaches the public how to perform CPR and other life-saving techniques became popular online.

Ho said it was unlikely the proposed law would be abused. In other countries, he said, there were clauses in similar laws stipulating that first aid providers would not be protected if they used measures not commonly recognised as first aid, or if they had a conflict of interest with the person in need.

Speaking on the same programme, Civic Party lawmaker Dr Kwok Ka-ki said there were few abuse cases in countries with existing Good Samaritan laws.

Kwok said he believed the legislative process in Hong Kong would be meticulous, to prevent potential abuses.

He added that if there was evidence that first aid providers deliberately tried to hurt the patient, it would be a criminal offence and the Good Samaritan law would not be applicable.

“We must start considering legislation on a Good Samaritan law,” Kwok said, urging either the Law Reform Commission or the Food and Health Bureau to take the first step in starting a consultation on the legislation.

He said he would bring the issue up at the Legislative Council.

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However, Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee earlier gave a lukewarm response to suggestions to legislate, saying the government would first need to “examine our first aid capabilities and the general public’s understanding and willingness to do this”.

“We do not want to have a piece of legislation just because rescuers are not capable enough. That may not be the best way forward,” she said.

Some countries, such as Germany and Finland, have a duty-to-rescue law, which requires people to offer assistance and holds liable those who fail to do so.