An individual shouldn’t be punished for doing the right thing. Yet, under current state legislation, underage individuals can be charged with a Minor in Possession if they seek medical attention for another intoxicated minor. But a bill currently before a state Senate committee, the Medical Amnesty Act, would exempt intoxicated underage drinkers who seek help for a friend from punishment. Though the bill is currently stuck awaiting committee approval, a resolution passed by the Michigan Student Assembly could encourage its progress. MSA should continue its support of the bill, and the state Senate should recognize its importance and pass it quickly.
The Medical Amnesty Act, also known as the Good Samaritan bill, was introduced by state Sen. Liz Brater (D–Ann Arbor) in March of 2009. The Act would protect any minor seeking medical help for another intoxicated person from being prosecuted for underage possession of alcohol. On Oct. 21, 2009, the Michigan House of Representatives passed the law in a 98-7 vote. Since then, the legislation has been awaiting the approval of the state Senate Judiciary Committee. If the committee approves the bill, it will go before the full Senate for a vote.
By prosecuting underage drinkers who seek medical attention for an intoxicated friend, current laws have created a disincentive for doing the right thing. Students who don’t want an MIP marring their record may be hesitant to call for help for a friend, especially if their thinking has been impaired by alcohol. But there should be no legal reason that students feel uncomfortable seeking help when someone needs it. The law’s priority should be encouraging a safer environment, and current laws don’t support that mission, which is why the Medical Amnesty Act should be passed.
Last week, MSA passed a resolution to lobby the Senate in support of the bill. MSA noted in its resolution that a similar policy enacted at Cornell University in 2002 resulted in significantly increased alcohol-related 911 calls. MSA hopes that the Good Samaritan bill will have similar effects at the University.
In the past, MSA has had some success in pushing for the protection of underage individuals seeking help. Last year, MSA wrote a letter to the House of Representatives voicing its support for the Medical Amnesty Act. Though this letter may not have been the sole reason for the bill’s passage, it encouraged representatives to take students’ concerns seriously. MSA should continue to support the bill.
But ultimately, it’s in the hands of the state Senate Judiciary Committee to decide that saving lives is more important than imposing punishment. No matter what senators believe about underage drinking, their primary obligation is the protection of people, a responsibility that must trump any other agenda. The Senate should approve this bill in a timely manner to encourage individuals to seek assistance for those in need.
The Medical Amnesty Act would create a safer environment and protect both people in need of help and those trying to do the right thing. State senators should stop stalling, and get to the business of protecting people.