Today was the very first time I heard mention of Pennsylvania’s Good Samaritan Act. The Act came up in discussion when, as part of my training as a bus driver shuttling children back and forth to school, I was instructed not to render assistance to children unless I had the training to do so. By law, a bus driver isn’t even allowed to give a child an epi pen to prevent anaphylatic shock in case of an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Only qualified medical professionals are allowed to do this.

The Good Samaritan Act was passed in order to prevent people from being sued in court if they tried to render assistance to a person who needed it. However, while it is clear the act was intended to allow people to help each other if they felt compelled to do so, it instead codified a necessity for people to be certified in first aid training in order to help others at will. Rather than encouraging people to provide voluntary medical assistance, the opposite has occurred: individuals at my bus company are being told not to help students because the state law leaves a clearly defined path of civil litigation for any parent who is upset over someone trying to help their child (for example).

The first wrinkle in this law became apparent when my trainer, a person who had worked as a firefighter trained to provide emergency medical assistance, was no longer allowed by company policy to provide the aid for which he was trained due to the potential of civil suits. The law does not grandfather in people who had a certification and received the necessary training to be forever exempt. Instead, it only considers those who renew their certification on a regular basis to be protected from lawsuits.

The result is plain enough to see. When a child on a bus has a problem, and the bus driver knows how to deal with that problem in a safe manner, Pennsylvania state law prevents the driver from doing so. Instead, the parents of that child are likely stuck with a large bill from emergency medical personnel, a possible ambulance ride (which may or may not be beneficial) and a guaranteed delay in which the child suffers, unattended, while the nearest who could help has his hands tied.

In order to receive a certification for First Aid and CPR, a person has to go through classes. In some areas of Pennsylvania, such as rural Perry Country, this is not easily accomplished. An individual will first have to find a place that offers classes, set aside a chunk of time to drive there, and then be able to afford the class itself. It appears that such a class is round 65 dollars and lasts three to four hours.

In other words, the long and short of it is that in order to help people who need help, the Good Samaritan Act makes people spend money that they would not otherwise spend. It assumes that secondhand training, such as a nurse teaching her family members, or a person learning CPR from friends, or a person self-teaching themselves, does not count. The concern is not upon the knowledge that an individual has, but merely upon what authorizing agency gave a piece of paper stating that the person was legally certified to perform First Aid and CPR.

The Pennsylvania State Congress, together with its governor, rather than addressing the problem at its source, instead tried to deal with the results. A state court system which does not simply throw out cases where a plaintiff seeks damages from an individual who was only trying to help is a court system that has become broken, perhaps beyond repair. The court system could easily be amended so that the plaintiff would have to present compelling, substantial evidence in order for such a case to be adjudicated.

Rather than the State Congress shaking an angry finger at the courts for getting it wrong so often, they instead write a law designed to stop the courts from awarding settlements to angry people who just refuse to accept that sometimes bad things happen. In fact, in every aspect from which I have examined the law in question, I have been unable to find any instance in which the court’s presence as a mediator could not be replaced by a private third-party agency, one who might have settled the case with a series of apologies, rather than with money.

Indeed, so legalistic and rulemongering has become the state of Pennsylvania that soon every citizen will have to be protected from every civil action. The unintended consequences will likely be far worse than any situation in which one person tries to help another and only makes things worse. Instead of a person performing the Heimlech Maneuver breaking the ribs of a choking person, everyone without a certification will be prevented from keeping a person from choking.

Or, if they do decide to help, the Good Samaritan Act, by defining what circumstances in which a person may not be sued, has defined the circumstances in which they may be sued. How much emergency medical care will be denied to individuals- ie, children riding on buses- because the courts have been unable to stop finding for the plaintiff in absurd civil suits? The answer is not altogether clear. What is clear: emergency medical personnel now have even more to do. The resources of hospitals are stretched even further than they have been- and this at a time when health care is becoming so expensive that it’s cheaper to disengage from the system entirely.

Under these circumstances, it appears that most parents, were they to truly know this law and all its implications, would choose to take their children off the school bus at once. That they do not do so highlights both a lack of knowledge about the law, and a lack of knowledge about the evils government-approved certification can bring. One such evil is that medical classes teaching what may be called basic medical knowledge may be founded upon obsolete or bad science. The certification program may itself be regulated by the government. If the guidelines for the class are determined by legislators, rather than by the school itself, the certification becomes little more than a permission slip.

As is increasingly common, though by no means plain, government regulation does far more harm than good. It often achieves the opposite of its intended, or stated, purpose. The Pennsylvania Good Samaritan Act is one such example of this. Why companies which interact with the state do no simply tell the state to bugger off, but instead continue to comply with even the worst of laws, leaves the consumer- in this case a parent whose child is in public school- with no choice but to say no to the company and, by extension, the harmful regulation.

This is the consumer’s ultimate power in any free market: the ability to say no. In an autocratic oligarchical state such as America, the consumer’s ability to say no is limited in any number of ways. Laws are passed, often without the individual’s knowledge, and enforced in ways that are not often known, much less imagined. That the state has grown so impertinent as to act affect the lives of people without conferring with those people to see if they like the idea or not is perhaps the best argument for the abolition of the state itself.

I certainly was never asked, nor invited to vote upon, who would be protected from civil suits and who would not be. The decision was made for me upon the assumption that my opinion was not required. That I do not have a child who rides the school bus does not make this any less disturbing to discover. The State Congress may as well force students with peanut allergies to eat peanut butter, force students with bee sting allergies to disturb a beehive, force students at risk for seizures to watch a flashing strobe light. In preventing healing from occurring, the government does incalculable harm.