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Do BU Students Need Medical Amnesty?

Students react to Emerson’s policy change


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BU Today asked students whether they believe BU needs a medical amnesty policy. Click the slide show above to hear their responses. Elizabeth Thomforde (SHA’09). Taylor Aldredge (COM’10). Vicki Han (COM’09). Jordan Rossman (CAS’12). Photos by Edward A. Brown and Kimberly Cornuelle.

Emerson College announced a new medical amnesty policy yesterday, allowing students seeking medical assistance for alcohol- and drug-related emergencies to be shielded from school disciplinary measures if they are found to be intoxicated when calling for help. The amnesty applies both to students seeking assistance for themselves or for others and to students receiving it.

Approximately 90 other schools, including Harvard and Northeastern, have such policies. Boston University does not provide medical amnesty for students, but the Student Union is calling on the BU administration to consider enacting a policy to ensure that students can seek out medical treatment without fear of reprisal.

“The problem is that if someone goes to an RA because they’re drunk or high, they’re afraid they will lose housing or scholarships or be expelled,” says Matt Seidel (CAS’10), president of the Student Union. “Friends are taking a sick person to a hospital really far away instead of calling an ambulance. It’s dangerous, because they’re putting their friend’s health in danger because they don’t want to get in trouble.”

Boston University’s policy imposes disciplinary sanctions on students and employees who violate University standards of conduct, which may include expulsion or termination of employment, referral for criminal prosecution, or mandated participation in a treatment, counseling, or other approved rehabilitation program. Conviction may result in fines, imprisonment, and revocation of, or loss of eligibility to receive, federal funding.

Seidel says that students often assume the worst about judicial sanctions, fearing expulsion or arrest. “There’s a strong belief that you will be punished for reporting an incident,” he says. “Until there’s an actual policy, every student will still believe that BU has zero tolerance and will put themselves in danger.”

The Student Union also supports the University’s adoption of a Request to Invoke form, a form that students fill out after an incident has occurred requesting disciplinary exemption.

“I think it’s important to foster a much more honest discussion about alcohol and drugs on campus and encourage people to put health first,” Seidel says. “It will make for a healthier and safer campus.”

For more information about the Student Union’s position on medical amnesty, click here.

Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu. Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu. Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.


5 Comments on Do BU Students Need Medical Amnesty?

  • Nicholas M. Cummings on 02.20.2009 at 5:37 am

    Medical Amnesty for BU students

    In a similar spirit to good Samaritan laws, amnesty encourages people to help their brethren by creating an environment in which the person seeking help won’t be punished for their appropriate judgment in choosing to aid a debilitated person.

    As the policy exists right now, people are being asked to seek help for their peers at consequence to themselves, which is significantly counterproductive. This is living in an idealistic, unrealistic world.

    Seeking help at guaranteed consequence to oneself is tantamount to punishing oneself. People are naturally going to be disinclined to punish themselves.

    Punishing people who perform good deeds in right judgment discourages people from seeking help, if not dissuades them from seeking help at all. With retribution guaranteed, students are going to be more inclined to take their chances and hope that their friend is not one of the 1700 / millions (<1%) who die from alcohol-related incident instead of taking the appropriate measures to ensure their friend's well-being.

    Put in real world terms, as in not Boston University policy, retribution raises the threshold at which people will be willing to seek help. People will wait until problems are more severe before seeking help, if at all. It's simple economics (if the people making the policies actually take advantage of the resource that's probably less than a half a mile away from them).

    The image of idealism and morality has its place until somebody dies needlessly because the people who could have helped were expected to do so at their own expense.

  • Anonymous on 02.20.2009 at 10:16 am

    amnesty policy

    I think this makes perfect sense and applaud the student union for pursuing this change. clearly, it will enable students to get help more quickly and safely.

  • Andre on 02.20.2009 at 4:08 pm

    Health should come first

    We should definitely have medical amnesty. No policy should put anyone’s health in danger, it’s just not worth it. A problem may arise though, where those who are dangerously intoxicated and need medical attention may get amnesty, but what about those who just have a buzz and are caught by their RA? In either case, maybe the “punishment” should really be requiring a certain number of sessions with a mental health professional. They will be expelled or lose their scholarship based on their grades, so if they maintain their behavior they will pay in the end anyway.

  • Anonymous on 02.21.2009 at 11:44 am

    Absolutely. No student should have to weigh the costs and benefits of calling for medical attention, but I personally know many people who have had to face that decision. When you see your entire academic career flashing before your eyes, it gives one pause. BU should not put their students in that terrible position.

  • Rationalist on 02.23.2009 at 5:41 pm

    Decisions, consequences.

    The decision to drink irresponsibly ITSELF contains the possible medical conditions and “troubles” that a student might get into.

    Such an amnesty policy will prohibits students to educate themselves on how to make their life decisions in real world conditions.

    If you made a decision, YOU HAVE TO FACE THE CONSEQUENCES.

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