Now let’s start with the obligatory disclaimer thing. First, we’re based in B.C. and what we’re going to say relates to practices here – I’m told it’s different elsewhere. Also, remember that we’re first aid & safety instructors, not lawyers. If you need detailed legal advice, see the professionals in that area!
Now that’s over, let’s look at four questions which people tend to ask us:

  • Do I have to help?
  • Can I refuse to help?
  • Can a person refuse to be helped?
  • Can I be charged if I stop doing CPR?CPR training

Do I have to help someone who needs first aid?

CPR face shield may be needed here

Why would you not want to help?

We’re assuming here that you’re capable of doing so! (If not, get some training.) The answer is: it depends. In general, ‘no’ – there is no requirement for a person trained in first aid to stop and help. Although that makes us wonder why you took the training and what sort of person you are…. but there’s presumably a good reason you want to walk away. But…

  • If you are the first aid attendant in a workplace, then yes – you must provide first aid to any injured workers. It’s expected of you and you could be in a whole heap of trouble if you don’t.
  • If you are a healthcare professional, while there’s no first aid ‘rule’ saying you must help – you’ll also have to use your professional judgement. And consider what might happen if someone who knows you, sees you not helping!

Can I refuse to help someone who needs first aid?

James tries CPR at age 4

Learning to help

See above – but again we wonder, why would you refuse? This question seems to suggest someone’s actually asking for your help and if you took a course, time to put it into practice. That said, yes you can refuse to help except in the situation where you are being employed to help – as the workplace first aid attendant (or if you’re a healthcare provider, first responder, lifeguard, child-minder, etc.)
Essentially if something in your job description says you’re expected to do first aid, then get going. Same applies if you’ve advertised your services as someone who is qualified (eg: “Au Pair, has First Aid Certificate”) – then it’s expected that you’ll use the qualification you’re promoting. If you’re an ‘average’ person, you do have the right to refuse to help.

Can a person refuse First Aid Assistance?

Yes, and you can’t force them to accept your help.
Unless it’s a child in your care, in which case you can use your judgement to treat them.
Unless their parents or legal guardians say ‘no’.
Except when it’s a life-threatening illness/injury – in which case you can ignore the parents.
But anyone who is unconscious is assumed to want your help.
Look – it’s all explained in this other post.
P.S. Even if they refuse your help, you can still call EMS/911 – and those guys & gals have ways to encourage people who need help.

Can I be charged if I stop doing CPR?

Maybe –  again it depends on the situation. In any situation, if you’re doing CPR and you stop, the person will most probably die. If continuing CPR puts your own life at risk, then you can safely choose to stop (let’s say there’s an encroaching fire, or a building starts to collapse or such).
You can also stop (without being charged) if:

  • You hand over treatment to someone qualified to do it (another first aid attendant)
  • The ambulance crew arrive and take over
  • The patient shows signs of life
  • You’re in such a situation that a suitably qualified medical doctor pronounces death

CPR showing chest compressions
If you’re employed to be the first aid attendant, then you’re expected to oversee the treatment of injured workers, including doing CPR. If you abandon the patient, then it constitutes negligence and there are laws about that. You could stop doing CPR when someone else takes over, but I get the feeling that’s not what the person asking the question intended.
If you do CPR for a few minutes and then give up because it’s hard work – then yes, there could be consequences for you. Get someone else in to help.
So those are the answers to some of the ‘legalities’ questions we get. If you have more, add a comment below!