Putting yourself at risk is wrong choice

Personal autonomy should not come ahead of personal safety and risk to others

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian) comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on July 23, 2014
Tour de France cyclist Alessandro De Marchi’s helmet is visible as he cools off during the 14th stage of the race recently.
Associated Press photo

Guest Opinion: There have been several recent letters to The Guardian protesting mandatory helmet laws. As a career emergency physician and a longtime coroner, I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing the tragic consequences of poor decision making over and over again.

Later in my career, while working in rehabilitation and long-term care, I had to care for patients who had sustained life-altering injuries because they didn’t wear a helmet, a seat belt or a personal floatation device.

For some of them, their decision not to maximize their own protection while engaged in a potentially dangerous activity was influenced by their objection to being told what to do, the “you’re not my mother” or “who made you the boss of me?” argument.

For others, they were impaired by alcohol or other drugs which clouded their judgment. For otherwise law-abiding individuals who decided at the last minute to take a chance, it was as much a matter of bad luck as bad judgment.

For all, their injuries were a lot more serious than they would have been had they been wearing protective equipment. Unfortunately, the consequences of their actions are borne by more than just the injured individual. They are shared by their loved ones, their friends and society as a whole. We all end up paying for their mistakes.

I can understand the strong need for personal autonomy. Alas, the conscious decision to put oneself and others at risk is the wrong choice. If an adult chooses to drink, or drug and drive, not wear a seat belt, enter a construction site without wearing a safety helmet or safety boots, go out on the water without wearing a PFD, or ride a bicycle or motorcycle without using legally required safety equipment, they should either be required to sign a lifestyle waiver absolving society of the responsibility of paying for their care should they become injured as a direct consequence of their action, or have their claims for coverage of the cost of such care rejected. Sometimes, the rights of society do take precedence over those of the individual.

Desmond Colohan, MD, coroner, lives in Charlottetown.