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Doctor Berated By Airplane Passenger For Not Helping During Medical Crisis After Getting ‘Intoxicated’

flight attendant serving male passenger a drink
Hans Neleman/Getty Images

Laws on rendering medical assistance vary from country to country.

Are medical professionals protected from liability if they render aid off the clock or away from the hospital or facility they practice in?

Is there a law requiring licensed personnel to provide aid in emergencies?

Those are certainly things to consider.

But something else to consider is whether the licensed personnel is physically or mentally able to provide assistance when they’re off-duty. Are they ill, on medication, overtired or intoxicated?

A doctor who didn’t provide medical assistance on a flight is wondering if they were wrong, so they turned to the “Am I The A**hole” (AITA) subReddit for feedback.

ThrowAwayFoodie22 asked:

“AITA for refusing to volunteer as a doctor on a flight?”

The original poster (OP) explained:

“I (male, mid-30s) am a medical doctor working as an internal medicine hospitalist at a major hospital. Recently I was on a long haul international flight.”

“Usually I sleep on flights, but this was during my waking hours so I decided to spend my time enjoying the inflight entertainment and free drinks. I had already been drinking even before the flight while I was in the lounge.”

“I was not slurring or excessively drunk, but I was feeling a strong buzz. Usually I don’t chat with my co-passengers—I just sleep or do my own thing.”

“On this flight the configuration of the business class cabin was such that the passengers in the middle row were practically beside each other. There was just a small barrier separating me and my co-passenger (female, mid-30s) that could be raised, but it still didn’t do much to separate us.”

“She started up a conversation and being a little intoxicated, I was also feeling chatty. When she asked what I do, I mentioned I’m a doctor and I work at such and such hospital.”

“After some more small talk we both started doing our own thing.”

“I was trying to watch my movie and enjoy my free drinks when an announcement was made asking if there was a doctor on flight.”

“Normally I would present myself to the cabin crew and help out, but after several hours of on flight boozing, I was pretty drunk.”

“I was not able to think clearly and probably would have done more harm than good in such a situation. I didn’t react to the announcement at all.”

“I mean if it was something really simple then they didn’t need to summon a doctor on flight—they could wait until they landed. If it was something that needed a doctor to attend to during a flight, it was not simple.”

“I’d have helped if sober—I have helped on flights in the past. But I assessed that I didn’t have my wits about me and that I’d just get in the way of the crew and the ground medical team.”

“I continued watching my movie and drinking my drink.”

“My co-passenger tapped me and said they just announced they need a doctor. I replied that someone else would help or they would get instructions from the medical team on the ground and left it at that.”

“What would you prefer: a volunteer tipsy doctor who is physically present or a sober doctor on the ground specifically trained to render Tele-assistance in such situations?”

“Under no circumstance would I render any sort of medical intervention while intoxicated. Never have, never will.”

“Alcohol impacts cognitive abilities much before it impacts physical abilities. Higher function is impacted at much lower doses than reaction time and motor skills.”

“Should a drunk off duty fireman drive the fire truck in an emergency? Would you drive drunk if you had to get somewhere in an emergency? Would the cops just let you off a DUI because it was an emergency?”

“She tried convincing me to go help but I refused. She then said I was an unbelievable a**hole and if the passenger died it was my fault.”

“That she didn’t know I was intoxicated didn’t even occur to me. It would be like explaining I’m wet while I’m swimming in a pool.”

“I was drinking in front of her for hours.”

“The flight attendant topped my glass with neat whisky several times in front of her. I had a drink in my hand while this situation went down.”

“Imagine trying to tell someone to go be a doctor while they have a drink in their hand.”

“I said ‘listen lady, just because I’m a doctor doesn’t mean I’m not on call 24/7 to provide medical care on demand. I work when I’m at the hospital, outside I’m just like everyone else and I’m entitled to drink and relax’.”

“She had a disgusted look on her face, but didn’t talk to me after that. I didn’t want to engage with her either.”

“I’m not sure what happened to the passenger who needed medical assistance, but since I didn’t hear any more announcements I assumed all was well. While exiting the aircraft this lady called me an a**hole again.”

“In my mind, I’m very clear that since I was intoxicated I could not provide medical assistance. I was drinking on my own time and there was no expectation that I would need to be sober.”

“Doctors get to enjoy life too.”

“I’m generally sober on flights, but every once in a while—especially if they have free premium spirits—I do indulge myself.”

“I can’t stay sober on every flight just in case there’s an emergency. I don’t think AITA, but I thought I’d get external opinions.”


The OP summed up their situation.

“I refused to volunteer to provide medical aid on a flight because I had been drinking and was too intoxicated to think clearly.”

“I may have been the only doctor on the flight and chose to continue enjoying my drinks instead of trying to sober up and provide help.”

Redditors weighed in by declaring:

  • NTA – Not The A**hole
  • YTA – You’re The A**hole
  • NAH – No A**holes Here
  • ESH – Everyone Sucks Here

Redditors were split in their responses, with some saying there were no a**holes here (NAH)…

“NAH. You are N T A for not volunteering after you’d been drinking. But why TF did you not just tell your co-passenger that?”

“The way you describe it you have appeared to just not want to help, and that comes across as really cold and callous. In her situation I would have thought you a huge AH, and you really did nothing to let her know you weren’t.” ~ Mountain_Cat_cold

“NAH but OP could have avoided an unpleasant scene.” ~ Specific-Size4601

…and some deciding the OP was the a**hole (YTA)…

“YTA. Duty to Rescue Statute requires medical professionals to render aid in the event of an emergency. You could essentially have committed a crime by not doing so.”

“If your state doesn’t require it then you do still have a code of ethics to follow.”

“Grown a** men acting like little boys. Maybe your care isn’t what should be solicted.” ~ Silly_Abbreviations8

“YTA. Doctors have off time but I also feel they are obligated to help someone in a situation where there is an emergency and they are the only person available who can look at that person.” ~ jempa45

“YTA for your unnecessarily rude attitude. A simple ‘I’m too drunk’ would have sufficed.” ~ sanguinepsychologist

“YTA for the way you communicated why you weren’t volunteering.” ~ Zealousideal-Worry-9

“YTA, you’re just an a**hole who said f it to the social contract that humans try to help each other in trouble get through it.”

“I get being drunk but you were sober enough to tell a lady to f*ck off. You could have just gone to check and said, ‘Hey, I’m drunk, but maybe I can guide a stewardess’.”

“Don’t you take an oath to help people as a Dr? I get you were off the clock, but you had a chance to help a fellow in need and didn’t.” ~ Traditional_Tie1039

“YTA for your little rant. You could have just said it’s not ethical because you’ve consumed too much alcohol.” ~ Lia_Delphine

“YTA. Not because you didn’t volunteer to help, but because of your attitude.”

“You didn’t hear any other announcements, so you presume all was well? What, you expect them to come back on and say, ‘We were only playing before, but now we REALLY need a doctor even if you’re sloshed, so please come to row 8A’?”

“Or better yet ‘ladies and gentlemen, just to let you know, since no doctor showed up, passenger X had died quietly. Just wanted to give everyone an update. Drink service will now resume…’?”

“No. They made an announcement looking for help, they got no response and they moved on to the next best option. That does not remotely mean all was peachy for the passenger with the medical problem.”

“If I was the passenger beside you, I would have assumed your attitude meant that you weren’t really a doctor at all, and it was just a line you use for conversations.”

“All this could have been avoided with a simple ‘ah no, it’s not that I don’t want to help, but I’ve just been drinking too much and could really hurt someone if I try to help right now’ (or something less eloquent if you were really quite intoxicated.”

“It’s your handling of the interaction and your attitude that are AH-like. Not your decision not to offer medical services.” ~ barprepper2020

…while others made the case for the OP not being the a**hole (NTA).

“NTA. Thank you for staying in your seat and out of the way. As you know, but apparently your fellow passenger and some of these Redditors don’t, medical assistance requires an assessment.”

“Humans don’t have printouts that provide a diagnosis to work from, and different conditions can look the same. But can have very different treatments.”

“Pick the wrong one, and you do more harm than good. Any medical professional that doesn’t feel fit to perform shouldn’t, whether it’s because of intoxication, illness, or fatigue.”

“If you showed up at a hospital to work after a couple of drinks, these same people would be calling for your head. You’re not psychic; you had a drink in the lounge before boarding and a drink or more on the plane, on your own time.”

“You’d be the a-hole if you DID step in to help, knowing you were intoxicated.”

“And you don’t owe nosy strangers an explanation.”

“The only lesson here is next time a passenger asks for personal information, lie and tell them you’re an accountant. There’s unlikely to be a tax prep emergency mid-flight.” ~ Reddit

“NTA. I’m a former flight attendant, and if you came to aid and we could tell you had been drinking or had said to us you had, we would have refused to let you help us, as it would impede the medical emergency.”

“I also think you wouldn’t be covered by the airline if you were drunk and something bad happened.”

“Also, with everyone saying YTA about your attitude towards the other passenger, I agree with you. She should mind her own damn business and not interfere.” ~ Psychological_Spot99

“NTA. I’m a nurse, and it’s against the nursing and midwifery code of conduct to respond to a medical emergency when drunk, and it can result in strike-off [loss of license].” ~ LilacHazy

Overall, more Redditors felt not providing medical aid after having several drinks was the right call than those who felt the doctor should have tried to help anyway.

The biggest disconnect was whether he was required to provide an articulate, polite, and acceptable explanation to his neighbor—after several drinks.

What do you think?

Written by Amelia Mavis Christnot

Amelia Christnot is an Oglala Lakota, Kanien'kehá:ka Haudenosaunee and Metís Navy brat who settled in the wilds of Northern Maine. A member of the Indigenous Journalists Association, she considers herself another proud Maineiac.