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J Med Ethics 33:158-159 doi:10.1136/jme.2006.017111
  • Law, ethics and medicine

Is there a doctor in the house?

  1. M H Rubin
  1. Correspondence to:
 M H Rubin
 Director, Pediatric Residency Program, Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, Brooklyn, NY 11206, USA; mhr28{at}cornell.edu

    As out-of-hospital emergencies become more commonplace, so does the call for a “doctor in the house”. New York City paediatrician Mitchell Rubin has responded to numerous such crises over the past 25 years. He explores reactions on all sides of this peculiar physician–victim relationship, his growing concerns and fears, and possible reasons why many doctors hesitate to act. His thoughts and experiences instigate the discussion about the need for a universal system of Good Samaritan physician responders

    While flying to Italy last spring, the pilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker: “Is there a doctor on board”? How many times have I heard this request in the last 25 years? A passenger had fainted. As I began caring for her, the pilot asked me, “Should we take the plane down?”. Surprised to be given this responsibility, I took my best guess and answered “no”. After a stressful landing, while I gave oxygen to the prostrate woman, we were met by an ambulance on the tarmac. The woman was appreciative and gracious, the pilot scarcely offered thanks, and I began my vacation exhausted.

    Having been trained as a paediatrician, I have responded to nearly two dozen “Good Samaritan” scenarios, where a person was injured or became critically sick in a public setting. Perhaps I have had more than my fair share, but I wonder if this is an important and mounting phenomenon. With America growing older and more and more people with serious, chronic illnesses remaining active in the community, we should not be surprised to see increasing numbers of out-of-hospital emergencies. And, as this becomes more commonplace, I become less and less certain of the role I—and other physicians like me—should have.

    When I was young, cocky and fearless, the call to meet an emergency was exciting. Shortly after training, an …