A Disincentive to Helping Others

The Times of India has a story today headlined “Crowd watches as man bleeds” that describes how “a 35-year-old accountant lay trapped and bleeding under an overturned auto for about 15 minutes” as crowds gathered and watched. Finally a passing doctor took the accountant to hospital, and later told the paper that this was the fourth time he had “brought an unattended accident victim to the hospital.”

The bystander effect explains this only partly. People don’t help accident victims in India mainly because of the legal hassles involved. The commonsense thing to do, then, would be to remove these legal hassles, these disincentives to helping others. Most of those are unnecessary anyway. But no, as in so many areas of our lives, the government won’t let us help each other, or ourselves.

The last line of that ToI story says:

People also fear getting involved in legal tangles, Sharma said but added, “The bottomline is that saving a life should take precedence over anything else.”

In an ideal world, of course it should. But this is not an ideal world, and instead of sanctimoniously speaking about what people should do, it would make more sense to examine why they don’t do it, and fix that. The government is the villain here, not the bystanders.

Update: Reader Chandni Parekh points out that the Supreme Court sometimes shows more sense than our government, as this judgement from late last year demonstrates. The salient lines:

Your responsibility ends as soon as you leave the person at the hospital.

Most people still don’t know this, of course, and thus hesitate.