University considers adoption of medical amnesty policy

University officials said they are considering formulating a policy that would ease sanctions for students who call for or need medical assistance because of excessive alcohol consumption.

At a Tuesday night meeting in the Marvin Center, Student Judicial Services officials met with Student Association and EMeRG. members to discuss the possible adoption of a medical amnesty program. The event was advertised as a townhall meeting, but only a handful of other students listened to the discussion.

Medical amnesty ensures students who call University Police for intoxicated friends or are transported to the hospital themselves are not heavily sanctioned by SJS. Currently, if an underage student calls for a sick peer, UPD accompanies EMeRG. to the scene and students can be punished for underage drinking. Twenty percent of students who are admitted to the hospital for intoxication were taken by a friend or admitted themselves.

“All too often students are forced to make the difficult choice of getting a friend medical attention or facing the machinations of SJS,” said Peter Feldman (U At-Large), who co-sponsored legislation calling for the formation of a blanket amnesty policy. “I’d like to liberate students from being placed in a challenging and uncomfortable position.”

SJS Director Tara Woolfson said the University is willing to compromise on the issue and hopes a program can be in place by next fall. Wolfson cautioned that medical amnesty would not be a “get out of jail free” card.

“Having to pay a $25 dollar fine or letting your friend die in bed doesn’t seem like a hard choice to me,” said Woolfson, who characterized the current sanctions for the average, first-time hospitalization of a student – which typically includes a fine and an alcohol education class – as being “minor.”

She also suggested that first-time offenders with clean records complete an educational process.

Second-time offenders may receive a judicial record or have to pay a small fine.

Woolfson, who cautioned that her office has not drafted a policy, said SJS and the University are “reviewing literature and considering what the best way to enact a medical amnesty program would be.”

Hilary Golston (CCAS-U), who drafted the SA legislation, said, “It’s general, it allows for flexibility and development. It allows the University to have flexibility in creating a program that’s appropriate for the University.”

Feldman, Golston and other students at the meeting said they felt it was integral that student be involved in formulating a medical amnesty policy.

“Everyone recognizes we need a medical amnesty policy,” Feldman said, “but the only way that we will achieve one is if the University makes a commitment to direct student participation at every stage of the process. Sadly, at this point in time, that commitment does not exist.”

Students at the meeting, including EMeRG. representatives, felt any type of judicial record associated with calling EMeRG. for a friend would undermine the effectiveness of an amnesty program.

“(Amnesty) gives friends peace of mind because people don’t want to get in trouble,” EMeRG. coordinator Kim Stambler said.

Feldman warned that a vague policy or one that is unclear about repercussions for second-time offenders would be another disincentive to call EMeRG.

He said, “The premise is to remove incentives to let friends be drunk and sick, but how is an ambiguous and threatening policy that does nothing to address the real problem going to be effective?”

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