The Duty to Rescue, Again

Our latest monthly column at Subculture for the Cultured is up. It was inspired by this question from Joe:

I have a question about Avengers Academy #37, which just came out.

It’s the final battle with supervillain Jeremy Briggs, whose transmutation powers are overpowering the team. He takes out X-23 by turning her sweat to acid, which is clearly killing her, so she stabs him in an artery [Ed. note: actually, Finesse pushes X-23’s claws into him]. He begins to bleed to death, which breaks his concentration enough that he can’t use his powers.

Teammate Finesse, who has powers similar to Taskmaster and therefore an expert knowledge of the human body, begins to tie off his wounds. But he begins gloating that he will just come back and try again, and so she drops the cord and let’s him die.

Nobody sees this as her teammates were distracted (it’s not exactly clear with what, but they have clear reaction shots showing they didn’t witness the conversation), so as far as anyone knows after X-23 stabbed him there was no way to save him. Later a police officer taking statements says it looks like self-defence and he doubts there would be charges.

1. Finesse’s action does seem like clear self-defense. But could Finesse be charged with anything if it comes out that she had a chance to render medical assistance and did not?
2. Does it make a difference that she started to render medical aid and then withdrew it?
3. Finally, does Finesse’s knowledge of anatomy and first aid skills give her an extra obligation to help someone who is dying, compared to someone had only a vague idea of what to do?

We’ve talked about the duty to rescue twice before, but this is a really great fact pattern.  Any of our law student readers who are currently in a torts class should find this particularly interesting.  Check it out!

7 responses to “The Duty to Rescue, Again

  1. I would point out that ( Unless I’m forgetting things after only a couple of days) Briggs specifically threatened the Academy kids, so could Finesse not also claim he was refusing treatment? ( I think “I’ll come back and kill you ( which is what was implied, I’m pretty sure) If you save me” is generally considered a refusal of medical care)

  2. 1. Is there any obligation to render medical assistance to someone who has just been trying to kill you or your friends, and who you’ve gravely wounded in stopping their attempted murder?

    2. Yes, it makes a difference. But I’m going out on limb here and say that a reasonable threat of danger to one’s life, responded to by a retreat to safety which necessarily means aborting the assistance, should be an acceptable defense.
    (i.e it might be a problem to say “I decided he’d be better off dead”. Not a problem to say “His statements put me in renewed fear of my life, due to his continued hostile and threatening manner, so I immediately retreated from him”).

    3. No. As far I as understand it, being a doctor or having medical training doesn’t impose any extra personal obligation in general.

  3. 1. Yes, typically being the agent of the injury creates a duty to attend to it (e.g., hit-and-run is a crime).

    2. I would think it would have to be an immediate threat (“if you stay here, I’ll hill you”) vs. and indeterminate one (“if you stay here, I’ll kill you… eventually”)

    3. I believe that some states once did impose such a requirement, as part of the licensing of doctors (on the plus side, they also used to get preferential parking so that if they saw something that needed their attention on the sidewalk, they didn’t have to circle the block looking for an open parking space.)

    3a. Wikipedia says ten states have “Good Samaritan” laws which require a bystander to at least attempt to summon aid.

  4. 1. Hit-and-run is different from self-defense involving deadly force.

    2. Immediate threat should be presumed from his being armed and dangerous plus expressing hostility. Remember, he still has his “weapon” (power) and I’d assert a reasonable person would be concerned he might attempt to use it again if he starts feeling better – something that could be inferred even from “if you stay here, I’ll kill you… eventually” . Remember, we’re not talking about a renewed application of force, but a retreat from an opponent who has just demonstrated murderous intent and only been stopped by mortal injury. Resuming a more defensive stance instead of remaining close and more vulnerable by rendering aid should be an acceptable response.

    3. I couldn’t find anything in a quick search. I don’t recall ever hearing of such a requirement, though I’m not a doctor.

    3a. Even so, that’s very different from having to stay up close and personal with a deadly criminal.

    • “Hit-and-run is different from self-defense involving deadly force.”
      No, it isn’t. Even if you’re authorized to use deadly force to stop a threat, once the threat is past, you have a duty to provide aid (usually satisfied by calling 911, unless you have traumatic-injury-treatment skills and knowledge.)

      Wikipedia says ten states have “Good Samaritan” laws which require a bystander to at least attempt to summon aid.
      “Even so, that’s very different from having to stay up close and personal with a deadly criminal.”
      But intentionally allowing the deadly criminal to die rather than summon aid for him would be a violation, no? Even if we think the whole world is better off if the guy is pushing daisies?

      • Going by the context set up in the question (a police officer taking statements), sounds like she, or at least someone on her team, called the authorities. Seems good enough to me.

  5. I just saw Batman Begins again. At the end, Batman says to Ras Al Ghul “I don’t have to save you” and then he jumps from the train and lets him die. In this case he doesn’t have a duty to rescue because he can’t be expected to carry Ras out of the train without endangering his own life… but didn’t he and Gordon conspire to muder Ras in the first place? Or was Ras always planning to die anyway when the train collided with Wayne Tower?


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