A “Not At This Time” Culture

Lorraine Bayless7 minutes and 16 seconds. That’s how long nurses at Glenwood Gardens nursing home, in Bakersfield, CA, had to render aid to Lorraine Bayless. She was 87 years old and now she is dead. Perhaps you’ve heard the audio of the 911 call. She did not have a DNR (do not resuscitate) order but the nursing home has a policy that requires staff to call 911 rather than rendering aid by, e.g., performing CPR. The person described in news coverage as a “nurse” (could a trained nurse  actually refuse to render basic emergency aid? There is a Nightingale Pledge, a revision of the Hippocratic Oath) followed company policy despite the moving pleas of the 911 operator.  Emegency operators are  cool customers. They’re familiar with stress and they know that it is most helpful for those to keep their composure so the evident exasperation of the operator is all that more remarkable. When asked whether she or anyone nearby would be willing to perform CPR on Lorraine Bayless, the staff member replied cooly, “Not at this time.”

We should remember those words. They belong on the same wall as “just following orders” and “It’s my body” and “negroes aren’t really human.”

“Not at this time.” Those words suggest that there might be some circumstance under which she might be willing to render aid but apparently the potential death of Lorraine Bayless did not meet the test. As mentioned, the nurse followed company policy:

In the event of a health emergency at this independent living community our practice is to immediately call emergency medical personnel for assistance and to wait with the individual needing attention until such personnel arrives.

Local news coverage indicates that the police are investigating. There is a law higher and more profound than company policy or even civil law. Even if they are ignorant The staff of the nursing home know that law. It is written on their consciences (Rom 2). They had to suppress the knowledge that they, as bearers of the divine image were placing their jobs above the life of a patient. Every human being knows in his conscience: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” A time may well come when that staff member is old and infirm and in need of help, of mercy, of basic human decency, and I’m sure that she will wish with all her failing strength in those moments that her caretakers will do better than she did on February 26, 2013.

This outrageous episode says much about our culture on several levels. We should ask why a company would institute such a policy? What incentives would they have to order staff not to render basic medical aid. Modern CPR only requires chest compressions now. Is it fear of lawsuits? If so, that’s a sad commentary but it doesn’t make sense. It took me less than 30 seconds to find a summary of California’s “Good Samaritan” law that protects those who render aid from torts:

Under California’s Good Samaritan statute (Health & Safety Code §1799.102), those who act in good faith to provide emergency care at the scene of an emergency are immune from civil liability

If a layman can discover the basic law then surely the company’s lawyers know the same law. Whatever the reasons for the policy (and one broadcast today indicated that patients are informed of the policy when they move in) the fact that a caretaker could refuse aid, even if giving aid meant breaking company policy and jeopardizing her job, indicates that something fundamental to civil society has gone missing.

I am grateful for the mercies I have received from those who had no immediate self-interest in my well being. I once began to step off the curb in the UK and, as an Americans are wont to do, I was looking for traffic coming from my left. Just as my weight began to transfer someone grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back—just as a car came careening by from the right. That stranger, who never identified himself to me, saved me from harm and possibly death. It wasn’t an extraordinary thing to do but it was a decent, human thing to do.

There are times when we can’t help. I once watched a small airplane crash about 100 yards or less in front of me. I pulled my car into the first drive and ran into a hospital office to urge them to call the authorities. It turned out that it was a mental health clinic and they assumed I was a patient having an episode. I don’t blame them but by the time I was able to make the call and get back to the plane it was engulfed in flames. There were others near the wreck but the flames became too intense too quickly. There was nothing to do.

Have we become so disconnected from each other, has life become such a video game, that one of us can stand there and watch another die, when we could help, and do nothing? Perhaps, in a culture where we kill our most vulnerable, yes.

Christians should give thanks tonight that our Lord Jesus, who might have stood by, did not. Even though we beat and mocked him, even though we stood by when he was humiliated, he took up his cross for us and carried it and our sins with it to the bitter end.

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  1. Excellent analysis – poignant. I fear our Lord is moving to bring a great chastisement on His people in the West, so as to remove from our list of options the “Not at this Time” excuse we too are wont to pull in the face of personal cost.

  2. Great post.

    In ways small, and large, we ignore the needs of our neighbor(s).

    We are exposed. And yet He loves us and forgives us…those who often are too busy to love Him…or His creation.

  3. How can we show the death of a civilization? Sometimes one incident is worth a thousand books.

    • Yep – like that napalmed child in the Vietnam war, or the famous picture of that concentration camp sufferer, and on a better note – the flag at Iwo Jima

  4. Thoughtful analysys and well said. I’ve visited this facility and many others in Bakersfield. Until now, it was my first recommendation for people in the area seeking senior care. The callousness of the individual was a stark contrast to the competence and compassion of the 9-1-1 call-taker.

  5. Hi Scott,
    Have you ever heard of Stanly Milgram’s study on situational obedience?

    “The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson: often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act.” –Stanley Milgram, 1974


    Worth a look.

    Take Care,

  6. Hate to say that this goes on with more regularity than one might think even in a hospital setting. Generally, it’s in regard to the aggressiveness of treatment and just plain effort expended. I always tell folks, make sure you have family in emergency or in the hospital with you to advocate for you. I’ve gone through two situations in my own family where they either denied treatment or tried to talk us into letting the family member die. In one case we had to get them transferred to another hospital who was willing to administer care, and in the other situation, family alternated daily and nightly shifts for 23 days because they were wanting to remove him from life support. Both lived, and are leading active lives. What is a bit surprising about this situation is that it’s generally the nurses, emt’s, physical therapists and rehab specialists who are LESS likely to be so callous. They generally greatly assist a family willing to fight for their loved ones. Tragic stuff.

  7. Thank you, Scott. This is a great article. I was running on a treadmill yesterday when I heard this on the news. It really is disgusting.

  8. This reminds me of scenes from third-world countries, where people lie dying in the streets, with passersby going about their business unconcerned. When a Christian conscience, however fragile, disappears in a culture, horror after horror will follow.

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