by Drew Baumgartner and Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
In order to increase the likelihood that students will call for medical assistance in an alcohol-related emergency, some colleges and universities have instituted “Good Samaritan” or medical amnesty policies that eliminate or reduce judicial consequences for students involved in alcohol-related medical emergencies. Other schools may reject this type of strategy based on arguments such as the need to “avoid sending the wrong message” about the seriousness of underage drinking.
Doborah K. Lewis & Timothy C. Marchell,
“Safety first: a medical amnesty approach
to alcohol poisoning at a U.S. university”
Drew: I first encountered the notion of a medical amnesty policy in college, though I can’t say I gave it much thought at the time. Indeed, it wasn’t until I was in a position to be worried about dangerously drunk/overdosing students not coming forward (I worked for several years at a summer camp for high-school students) that I started to appreciate how boneheaded the “avoid sending the wrong message” camp truly is. Mostly, it just forgets that the rules against drinking and alcohol use are there for the safety of the students in the first place, somehow valuing the sanctimonious tut-tutting of saying “you shouldn’t drink” over, you know, saving the life of a kid who broke the rules. It’s such an obviously flawed attitude, I was honestly taken aback when I saw reports that some sheriff in Florida was explicitly not offering amnesty to folks with warrants seeking shelter from Hurricane Irma. Or, more specifically, he was insisting on conducting unconstitutional ID checks in order to deter anyone with a warrant from seeking the refuge of a hurricane shelter, endangering their lives because he somehow values laws — the things society makes in order to protect people — more than actually protecting people.
Before I get too off topic, my point is that we’re often too preoccupied with the letter of the law to really parse its spirit. Certain things may be illegal because they’re dangerous, but if coming forward about illegal activity makes things objectively less dangerous, we should encourage that behavior. The article I quoted at the top of this piece offers objective data in support of that idea after studying a medical amnesty policy at Cornell, but I think it’s crucial to note that this type of thinking doesn’t just operate at the institutional level. Even in our daily lives we often react badly to honesty simply because we dislike the truths being revealed, but like the researchers at Cornell, we must recognize how that attitude only makes the situation worse. I found myself thinking about this phenomenon a great deal as I read The Wicked + The Divine 31, as issues of amnesty (and lack thereof) cropped up throughout the issue. Continue reading →