GERMS Lobbies for Official Medical Amnesty
Published: Friday, January 31, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014 02:01
Campus groups are pushing to formalize common practice by drafting a policy that would grant amnesty to students in need of medical attention because of alcohol or drug use.
Medical amnesty refers to laws that are implemented specifically to legally protect those who seek medical attention as a result of illegal activity. On college campuses, this usually manifests as underage drinking.
Currently, Georgetown does not have an official policy in the Student Code of Student Conduct that makes reference to medical amnesty.
According to the nonprofit organization Medical Amnesty Initiative, unintentional alcohol-related incidents are the leading cause of death among young people in the United States.
This semester, Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Services Acting Crew Chief Brian Monahan (COL ’15), an emergency medical technician, worked with the Office of Residential Living to propose a new policy. According to Monahan, emergency calls involving underage drinking and drug consumption often result in student confusion about the roles of the Georgetown University Police Department, Metropolitan Police Department, GERMS and the students involved.
Students, particularly in the freshman dorms, often ask if they will get in trouble, and the EMTs assure that they will not. A few days later, however, students involved in an incident with GERMS receive a letter from their community director. Monahan said this ambiguity can cause confusion.
“For some people, the big barrier for calling is that they are worried about getting in trouble, other people finding out and their whole freshman floor seeing,” Monahan said. “Our biggest concern is our patients. We want to make sure that students know their resources and that they are not going to get in trouble for this.”
Student Advocacy Office Co-Director Ben Manzione (SFS ’15), who sits on the Disciplinary Review Committee, said codified clarification is imperative to alleviate confusion and encourage the seeking of help in emergency situations.
“In order to be truly clear and to allow students to know it exists, it has to be truly created and a part of the Code of Student Conduct,” Marzione said.
The proposed policy would provide medical amnesty to anyone who calls or requires the assistance of a residential assistant, GUPD or GERMS on behalf of a sick friend. Modelled after the D.C. Good Samaritan Law, the proposed rule covers alcohol use and illegal drug possession in any dry location or public area.
While the policy covers multiple incidences per student, it does not protect from the possession of drugs with the intent to distribute, physical assault or harassment.
Affected students are required to attend a wellness meeting, afterward, to ensure that there are no serious problems at hand.
Similar policies have been successfully enacted at other schools. Monahan cited a study done by Cornell University that concluded that no increase in high-risk drinking behavior occurred after a similar policy was enacted on the Ithaca, N.Y. campus.
Monahan is optimistic about the prospect of the university officially recognizing the policy.
“The policy does not change anything that the university has been doing in practice. It just puts things into writing,” Monahan said.
The policy, edited by Manzione and Office of Student Conduct Associate Director Adam Fontaine, was presented to the DRC last November. It was approved by that board and is in the process of being approved by the Office of Student Affairs.
Director of Student Conduct Judy Johnson stated that the university is in the process of finalizing the language of the policy related to amnesty for students involved in underage drinking and drug consumption.
“We are trying to do this as quickly as possible. We always have to make sure that the language that we use does not run into legal obligations that the university may have,” Johnson said.
Johnson discussed how there is no drawback to putting students’ safety and well-being first.
“This is about if there is a medical emergency that people get the help they need without getting in trouble,” Johnson said. “We hope that students will not drink to excess and put their lives at risk, but in the event that something happens, we really do want to make sure that they seek the help that is necessary and that they trust that we have their full support.”