Better safe than sorry

The state’s new medical amnesty law is a step forward for student safety.

by Aditi Pradeep

This semester marks the first academic year that underage University of Minnesota students who drink are legally protected under the state’s medical amnesty law. Passed in May, the law allows minors who have been drinking to seek medical attention without legal consequence.

Students from multiple universities fought for the law in hopes that underage drinkers will report medical emergencies, such as injuries, alcohol poisoning or sexual assault, despite having broken the law.

More than 600,000 students ages 18 to 24 attending four-year universities reported being hit, pushed or assaulted while under the influence. Even if just a fraction of cases are severe, medical amnesty laws are necessary.

Minnesota is one of just 16 other states that have adopted a medical amnesty law.

When Cornell University adopted a Medical Amnesty Program, researchers reported a 61 percent drop over four years in students failing to call 911 in an emergency. Mirroring this trend, twice as many students participated in Cornell’s educational intervention after they had an alcohol-related injury.

An underage drinker shouldn’t have to choose between safety and potential legal repercussions. The law underlines concern for underage drinkers far more effectively and empathetically than doling out minor consumption citations. While the consequences are legally less critical, it encourages responsibility.

The Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association testified against the law in a state House committee earlier this year, saying it could encourage underage drinking and hinder enforcement.

However, the benefits of medical amnesty outweigh the risks.

In Cornell’s study, students commonly said they didn’t seek medical attention because “I wasn’t sure the person was sick enough.” Several colleges have added guidance and counseling programs as part of their policy. Following up with underage drinkers through counseling and investing in education on alcohol safety is also crucial in ultimately lowering alcohol-related deaths.

Medical amnesty provides a safety net that ensures a path to safety. If this were to save even a single life, would that not be worth it?