Samaritan law needs more study

Pennsylvania lawmakers shouldn’t procrastinate about considering a measure that would provide immunity from arrest and prosecution for a drug user seeking medical assistance for an overdose victim.

At the same time, those same lawmakers shouldn’t be overzealous in passing the measure; there are serious questions to resolve.

Some lawmakers already were reflecting on obvious plusses and minuses tied to the proposed legislation – House Bill 2090 – as the bill exited the Human Services Committee for consideration by the full House.

An obvious, legitimate fear is that if done incorrectly, this good Samaritan law could be more damaging than if the law wasn’t passed.

Similar thinking encompasses many other measures. However, about something as serious and life-threatening as illegal drugs, as well as the potential impact on communities, the General Assembly must be right in what it decides.

The biggest issue surrounding the proposed law is how far the measure should go toward shielding a good Samaritan from prosecution.

In an article in the March 23 Mirror, Blair County Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks, although saying he was unfamiliar with the bill as written, voiced concerns many prosecutors are likely to have about a measure like the one on the legislative table.

Pointing out that it often takes a run-in with the criminal justice system for an illegal-drug user to seek treatment, Weeks said removing the threat of prosecution would, for many opiate addicts, translate into less urgency to seek the help they need.

Good deed aside, the question becomes: Should law enforcement and society in general take upon the obligation to look the other way on behalf of individuals who tomorrow might rob or steal or endanger others’ lives to continue feeding their habits?

Courts of law should take into consideration a good deed after a person has acted selflessly to save the life of another. However, before approving automatic immunity, lawmakers should seek input from police on all levels, as well as from judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the general public.

In the March 23 Mirror article, state Rep. Jerry Stern, R-Martinsburg, was quoted as saying if someone is responsible enough to call 911 or otherwise try to get help for an overdose victim, the good Samaritan deserves consideration.

The key word is “consideration.” In addition to the good Samaritan provision, HB 2090, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, provides a mechanism to provide drugs like naloxone – which can quickly reverse a drug overdose – to nonmedical professionals and family members of opiate users. But concerns expressed by Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona, are valid.

McGinnis said police

shouldn’t have to worry about possible legal implications or other burdens tied to administering such drugs.

What the fate of “2090,” as currently written, should be is unclear. Necessary now is for thorough fact-finding and opinion-gathering to begin, including from families who’ve lost a loved one because a potential good Samaritan was afraid to summon help.

Regarding this measure, procrastination and overzealousness would be irresponsible. A reasonable timetable for hearing from all sides and voting on the measure is what’s needed.