Why EMS cares for all patients without bias, judgement

All patients, including terrorism suspects, are treated with the same fairness and respect we deserve ourselves

Each time a terrorism event is reported in the world, I pay attention to the efforts of the first responders who are responsible for dealing with the incident's aftermath. While the chance of me being involved personally in such an event is very small, understanding what worked and what didn't work makes me feel better prepared for such intense events.

Looking at what happened in London last week, I was surprised and disappointed at some of the criticism directed at the medics and other health care providers who began resuscitation efforts on the suspect who was shot and killed by law enforcement. Several folks on social media felt that it was inappropriate for EMS to spend the time and effort on trying to save the man. 

Emergency services transport an injured person to an ambulance, close to the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Emergency services transport an injured person to an ambulance, close to the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

There's no doubt that the individual did a horrific deed, misappropriating religious teachings to rationalize an inhuman, senseless violent act upon innocent civilians. These actions must be stopped, and the perpetrators prosecuted under the rule of law.

But treating the injuries of suspects doesn't condone the action. In fact it reinforces the fact that EMS professionals can set aside their personal feelings and commit to the work that must be performed – the saving of a life. 

The actions of the U.K. medics are reflected daily in our practice. Every day we are confronted by situations that try our patience and place us at risk for bodily injury. Violent overdoses, high-frequency callers, the homeless and the system misusers can color how we view the world. It becomes quite easy to think about some of our patients as being less human, less deserving of the care and compassion we are supposed to provide without bias or judgment.  

The National Association of EMTs Code of Ethics states that as EMS practitioners, we are pledged to "provide services based on human need, with compassion and respect for human dignity, unrestricted by consideration of nationality, race, creed, color, or status; to not judge the merits of the patient’s request for service, nor allow the patient’s socioeconomic status to influence our demeanor or the care that we provide."

This is despite the simple fact that we are human ourselves, susceptible to the same limitations and foils of the people we treat.

Most people have the option to not do something based on their individual beliefs and value system. Public safety providers don't have that luxury. Our job is to take care of our community and protect it from harm.

EMS providers are part of the safety net for Americans who don't understand or have access to medical care. We can't afford to damage this trust by judging the patients we treat. So whether it's the terror suspect, the prisoner in custody or the grandmother who calls for help, all patients are treated with the same fairness and respect we reserve for those closest to us.

About the author

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook writer, author of "EMT Exam for Dummies," has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide direct patient care regularly. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

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