Thursday, March 02, 2006

Suit Alleges Rescuer Pulled Off of Gay Man, who Dies.

Every now and then, a story comes along that just takes your breath away, for the ignorance, fear or malice that some people can display. In this case, it is a story either about ignorance, fear or malice, it is hard to see inside of a man's head to know which of these it is (perhaps all of them).

And so it is with a story out today about a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the mother of a gay man who died of a heart attack, allegedly after the chief of police in the town where he lived pulled away a would be rescuer who was performing CPR on him.

CHARLESTON, West Virginia (AP) -- A small-town police chief was accused in a federal lawsuit Thursday of stopping a would-be rescuer from performing CPR on a gay heart attack victim because he assumed the ailing man had HIV and posed a health risk.

Claude Green, 43, died June 21 after being stricken yards from City Hall in Welch, a community of about 2,400.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of his mother.

Now, the police chief, Bobby Bowman, said that the whole thing is a 'boldfaced lie,' and that he called an ambulance and that Green was taken to the hospital in "no more than nine minutes."

Of course, he is going to have to say something like that (I mean, what else would he say, "Yeah, I thought he was a sick S.O.B. so I decided to let him die," ?)

But he then chooses his words carefully:

"No one refused him CPR as his sister and mom are saying. They can do what they want, but if they're saying I refused him CPR, that is no way true," Bowman said.

The allegation is NOT that Green was refused CPR, it is that Bowman pulled his friend off of him in order to prevent CPR. Green was not in a position to request CPR (being unconscious) so there was no refusal, but an act much more direct.

The lawsuit accuses Bowman of pulling off Green's friend Billy Snead as Snead was performing chest compressions on the man. Snead was a passenger in Green's pickup truck when Green collapsed; Snead had managed to pull over the vehicle.

After this episode, Green was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead after he could not be revived there.

Now, let me address a few points.

First, the time for the ambulance. Nine minutes. Cardiologists will tell you that your best chance for surviving a heart attack is to receive a controlled electric shock within the first six minutes. But if none is available, then CPR can help fill this gap. All potential first responders are given this information as part of their routine training. It may be a small town, but it is hard to imagine that a police chief would not know this.

Second, the police chief showed an apalling lack of knowlege about AIDS. To begin with, it is no longer primarily a 'gay' disease, as it was in the 1980's. More heterosexual people now have it than homosexual people. Further, the chances are pretty good that a randomly selected individual, whether gay or straight is not HIV positive (and Green, in fact, was not HIV positive). On top of that, it would be extremely difficult to get AIDS from giving someone CPR, even if it involved mouth-to-mouth. Extremely difficult. And even if the police chief, for whatever reason known only to him, thought he had to prevent mouth-to-mouth, why would he have also thought that he had to prevent Mr. Snead from administering chest compressions?

Third, if Mr. Snead is engaged in trying to save a life, who is the police chief to tell him he can't? Many lives are saved at the cost of some risk (whether a lifeguard at a beach who jumps in after someone, aware that they may be caught in a strong undertow, or for that matter one of Mr. Bowman's officers who may have to rescue someone from a crashed vehicle, aware that there is at least a remote chance that it might explode). But then, as I mentioned in the second point, there was essentially zero risk to Mr. Snead, while the risks and consequences to Mr. Green for every second he didn't receive CPR increased exponentially.

"He was simply a gay man in Welch, West Virginia, and because of that we can only assume that Chief Bowman assumed he had HIV and it was unsafe to even touch him," Saxe said.

Now, we will watch for this as it goes to trial. But if the allegations are borne out, it will be interesting to see how much was ignorance, how much was fear and how much was malice.

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