Am I Obliged by Law to Provide Emergency Aid?

Everyone would like to help someone in need. Sometimes, however, you are overwhelmed by it.

I was on my way home late at night. A woman came toward me, swaying strangely, gasping for air, grabbing her heart, and then collapsing. I wondered if she was just totally drunk or if her heart was failing.

I didn't know how to react at all. Nervously, I looked around, but there was no one else on the street. Then I told myself that someone would surely come along and help if necessary and started on my way home.

I have had a guilty conscience ever since. Should I have done something? What could have been demanded of me as a layperson?

Toni M.


The legal situation is clear. Article 128 of the Swiss Criminal Code states: Anyone who fails to help a person whose life is in immediate danger, even though he or she could reasonably be expected to do so under the circumstances, is liable to a custodial sentence not exceeding three years or to a monetary penalty.

The same applies if one does not help a person whom one has injured oneself. Or if you prevent others from providing emergency assistance or hinder them in doing so.

Clarification Is Simple, but Indispensable

Toni would therefore have been clearly obliged by law to provide emergency aid. Since no one had observed him, however, no one will hold him accountable.

What exactly should he have done? First of all, Toni should have clarified whether there was a medical emergency. This would have been very simple. He could have approached the woman and determined whether she was conscious and breathing. Taking her pulse would have given him clues as to whether his own assumption of heart failure was correct.

Lay Persons Are Not Liable for Errors in Emergency Aid

Toni could only do one thing wrong: not react. He had nothing to fear. If he had done something clumsy in his perplexity, he could not have been held liable as a medical layman. For example, if he had tried to give the patient artificial respiration instead of cardiac massage.

At Least Dial the Emergency Number

If Toni had absolutely not dared to even touch the affected woman, he could still have helped her. He should have immediately dialed 144 or 112 (international emergency number). Thus he would have organized immediate professional help and received instructions on how to care for the woman.

Emergency Aid also in Psychological Crises

People's lives may be in danger not only because of accidents, attacks or organ failure, but also because of mental problems. Emergency assistance is especially necessary when someone is at high risk of suicide.

In this case, too, one can dial the emergency number. The affected person should not be left alone until professional help arrives.

Unfortunately, Toni's guilty conscience is justified. But now he knows how to act the next time he is confronted with an emergency.


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