Ohio Senate May Allow EMTs to Draw Blood from DUI Suspects

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If Senate Bill 58 becomes law, it would become illegal to collect blood, urine, tissue or other bodily fluids from someone without their consent. As the Senate considers that Ohio DUI law in Columbus, an amendment to the main bill is also raising questions.

According to Suzanne Hoholik, writing for the Columbus Dispatch, Senator Timothy Grendell has added a provision to the bill which would allow emergency medical technicians to draw blood from suspects in drunken driving cases.

The idea has raised numerous questions, some raised by the State Board of Emergency Medical Services. Among them:

  • What is the chain of custody for a blood sample taken in the field?
  • Would EMTs have to testify in court regarding the sample they took?
  • What impact would such a law have on patient care in the field?

"Not that it would happen, but patient care could somehow be compromised because a police officer decides a blood draw is more important than what’s going on," says Jack Reall, a paramedic who also serves as the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 67.

Sen. Grendell says that his provision would not require emergency workers to draw blood under any circumstances. If they did so, the measure would allow that sample to be admissible in DUI court. Grendell points out that Florida is one example of a state that already has a similar law, and it has not measurably kept EMTs from fulfilling their primary responsibilities.

The benefit to the idea, says Grendell is that if EMTs are able to take samples, circumstances where a suspect is not tested until much later could be avoided, leading to more accurate results. The bill would give EMTs and their agencies immunity from civil and criminal liability. Without the provision, Senate Bill 58 would expressly prevent them from taking blood or tissue unless authorized to do so.

Jim Carney, legislative director for the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, says that firefighters and EMTs "don’t want to be mobile forensic labs just for the sake of drawing blood."

On the other hand, Jim Gilbert, president of Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9 says such a scenario is very unlikely.

"We wouldn’t want to take a medic unit out of service that would potentially be responding for a heart attack or something to aid in our investigation."

Senator Grendell says the Ohio EMS board would be responsible for writing the guidelines for EMTs. However, the board itself is not thrilled with the idea.

“EMTs aren’t trained in evidence collection,” says Richard N. Rucker, executive director of the state EMS division. “They don’t carry the right equipment to do that.” The board argues that drawing blood from DUI suspects does not constitute emergency medicine.

Grendell wants the details of the provision to be worked out with the EMS board and local agencies, but many career professionals, including paramedic Reall, seem uneasy with this strategy. Better, he says, to see all the details down before anything becomes legally binding.

Source: Columbus Dispatch


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