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In Case of Emergency: Who pays the Bill?

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Introductory Anecdote

Abby Sunderland, the 16-year-old yachtswoman who has a passion to be the youngest person to circumnavigate the world, must be relieved that The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea was adopted back in 1914. In response to the Titanic disaster, the Convention mandated safety regulations and dictates that any ship in the area of a distress call will divert to assist that ship. Furthermore, rescues at sea are a no-cost agreement under conventions regarding maritime search and rescue operations.

Recently Abby was stranded in the Southern Ocean. On the first day that Australia’s rescue agency detected her emergency beacon, they chartered a jet to fly over the area where her beacon was activated. The 11-hour flight cost an estimated $94,500 U.S. dollars.

On the day after locating her, the agency sent another plane to coordinate her pickup by ships racing toward her damaged and drifting yacht.

The Australian military also deployed two Orion aircraft to wait on an Indian Ocean island in case an airdrop or further assistance was needed. An Orion costs about $25,000 an hour to operate.

In the meantime, the French territory of Reunion Island diverted three ships to Sunderland’s location. The fishing vessel that reached her first lost at least three days of work; a commercial ship also sent to her rescue added three days of travel time to its intended destination.

Ethically, I believe we, as humans, did the right thing to create these types of agreements. Although there are doubts regarding the wisdom of allowing this type of trip in the first place, still, even those who favor preventing such adventures and consider her attempt reckless or irresponsible would have a hard time justifying inaction and abandoning her life.

In the absence of the convention for a no-cost agreement for rescue at sea, considering halachic principles relevant to Jews, let us consider who would have been responsible to pay for these rescue costs.

Take Action, Spend Money, to Save a Fellow Jew’s Life at Risk

During a medical crisis, many people can stay focused solely on saving lives without concern for who is going to pay costs. Often, however, such attempts do cost money, and after the crisis has passed, the bills need to be sorted out.

It is every Jew’s responsibility to do whatever he or she can to save the lives of other Jews without endangering them any further. Sometimes a person who is not trained in medical matters can save lives by himself. A rescuer can remove a victim from an inferno or throw a life preserver to someone who is drowning. Sometimes there may be expenses involved. Does the rescuer have to pay for the mitzvoh he is performing? Sometimes the victim needs trained medical care and it is forbidden for an unlicensed practitioner to get involved since he might worsen the situation. In such a case, it becomes necessary to call trained and licensed medics to the scene. Who should cover any expenses incurred?

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