The Irrawaddy

Emergency Care Bill Signed Into Law

Rangoon General Hospital is pictured in downtown Rangoon. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma’s President Thein Sein signed into law an Emergency Care and Treatment bill last week, the government mouthpiece Myanma Alin reported on Tuesday, in an attempt to fix some of the ails afflicting the country’s decrepit health care system.

The law, passed on Friday and published in the state daily on Tuesday, appears aimed in part at combatting widely held reluctance in Burma to help strangers in medical need. A common fear is that involving oneself with such a person will require lengthy, legally mandated commitments as a witness in any court proceedings stemming from the incident.

Under the new law, any requirement that a rescuer later serve as a witness in a court hearing related to the incident must not be subject to “undue burden” in the course of fulfilling his or her obligations as a witness.

The legislation also seeks to remedy another worrying aspect of Burma’s health care system: the tendency for some hospitals to withhold treatment from patients until after a police report of the incident leading to their medical need is received.

The law requires hospitals both public and private to give priority to cases involving emergency care. If a private hospital takes in such a patient, it must ensure the individual’s condition is stable before transferring the patient to a public hospital. The provision would prevent hospitals from delaying treatment in dire cases until a police report is received, as is a common practice in Burma.

Aung Kyaw Soe, 34, welcomed the new law, saying it would put the public’s mind at ease in situations where an individual is imperiled.

“Two years ago, two cars crashed on Pyay Road [in Rangoon]. Each car had two people bleeding and unconscious, but there was no one who took care of them out of fear of police involvement. An ambulance took nearly 30 minutes to arrive.”

Thura U Aung Ko, a Lower House parliamentarian, put forward the Emergency Care and Treatment bill last year.

Another provision stipulates that if a person prevents or obstructs a hospital-bound patient, the offender could face up to one year in prison and a fine of US$100.

Lawyer Khin Zaw told The Irrawaddy that the prison term was too harsh a punishment for offenders, and said a more clear definition of “prevents or obstructs” was needed. He also pointed out that the law contained no provision legally requiring individuals to render assistance if they are first on the scene of a situation that calls for it. So-called “Good Samaritan” laws exist in some countries and often require individuals to at minimum inform authorities in such situations.

The Emergency Care and Treatment Law does state that the person in closest proximity to an injured individual “have the duty” to provide assistance or contact police or other relevant authorities, but it stops short of legally mandating assistance.