The World of Chinese - - TEA LEAVES -

A pub­lic de­bate on the by­stander ef­fect, prompted by a vi­ral video of a fa­tal traf­fic ac­ci­dent, has high­lighted con­tin­ued gaps in China’s “Good Sa­mar­i­tan” laws—le­gal pro­tec­tions for those who vol­un­teer to help vic­tims.

The 94-sec­ond video from Zhu­ma­dian, He­nan, recorded in April but cir­cu­lated in mid-june, showed a hit-and-run in­ci­dent in­volv­ing a woman and a taxi at a ze­bra cross­ing. Af­ter be­ing struck, the woman is seen at­tempt­ing to sit up, but is ig­nored by pedes­tri­ans and pass­ing ve­hi­cles un­til run over a sec­ond time by an SUV about a minute later.

In­fa­mous in­ci­dents, such as a tod­dler run over and ig­nored by 18 pedes­tri­ans in Foshan in 2011, as well as cases of vic­tims su­ing in­no­cent by­standers for dam­ages, have spurred sev­eral cities to draw up laws that pro­tect out­side par­ties from le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity for in­ter­ven­ing in an emer­gency sit­u­a­tion, start­ing with Shen­zhen in 2013.

He­nan cur­rently of­fers no such pro­tec­tions—but sev­eral of the cities that do, such as Bei­jing and Shang­hai, have caveats. Shang­hai stip­u­lates that by­standers must first call emer­gency ser­vices and fol­low in­struc­tions. Bei­jing merely “en­cour­ages” and pro­tects “in­di­vid­u­als with spe­cial­ized emer­gency med­i­cal-re­sponse skills” to in­ter­vene be­fore first re­spon­ders ar­rive.

In He­nan, po­lice say about a dozen wit­nesses called emer­gency ser­vices im­me­di­ately af­ter wit­ness­ing the first col­li­sion. But due to the short time­frame and low vis­i­bil­ity at the scene, since the ac­ci­dent oc­curred af­ter dark, their re­sponse was in­suf­fi­cient to pre­vent the victim be­ing hit a sec­ond time (she later died in hos­pi­tal).

De­spite pub­lic ser­vice cam­paigns, the Shen­zhen Red Cross As­so­ci­a­tion says that less than one per­cent of Chi­nese adults are trained in ba­sic emer­gency re­sponse, com­pared to 25 per­cent of Amer­i­cans. The Red Cross sug­gests that Good Sa­mar­i­tan laws could be stan­dard­ized na­tion­wide, while “re­me­dial” first-aid train­ing for the pub­lic could both re­duce their sense of “help­less­ness” and in­crease their abil­ity to help.

In a 2015 sur­vey by Shang­hai’s Pudong New Dis­trict, 74 per­cent of re­spon­dents stated they would call emer­gency ser­vices when confronted with some­one need­ing im­me­di­ate as­sis­tance, and 96 per­cent ex­pected pro­fes­sion­als to pro­vide the ac­tual as­sis­tance. As the He­nan in­ci­dent demon­strates, this may not be enough to save lives in a time-crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. – H.L.

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