Opinion: Would you worry first about saving a life or an EpiPen-related lawsuit?

A trainer in the Michigan schools instructs teachers and other staff on how to use an epinephrine auto-injector. Michigan was ahead of California in stocking the life-saving devices in schools and training staff to use them in an emergency.
(Mandi Wright / Associated Press)

Good for Gov. Jerry Brown for being willing to irritate the two state teachers unions by signing legislation that would stock all public schools with epinephrine auto-injectors and require training at least one volunteer at each school to use them.

The devices, known by the brand name EpiPen, are extremely easy to use in the event that a student or someone else at the school has a severe allergic reaction that could cause airways to close off. Anaphylaxis can be fatal.

Doctor groups, nurse groups and allergy groups all supported the bill, SB 1266, by Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar. The only organizations opposed to it were the California Teachers Assn. and the California Federation of Teachers. They said there should be school nurses to do that instead. Yes, and ideally there would be a paramedic at every restaurant, but I’m still going to try the Heimlich maneuver if someone is choking and an ambulance isn’t right outside.


Brown too often bends to the wishes of the teachers unions — but once in a while he lets his famous independence of thought prevail. A couple of years ago, he refused to require charter schools to provide school lunches. And now he’s chosen kids’ lives over the truly petty objections of a couple of unions.

Other concerns were that teachers might be held liable if something went awry, but the bill contained very clear language indemnifying the volunteers and requiring schools to cover any legal expenses. Another teacher who contacted me about the issue after my blog post last week raised concerns that teachers could be accused of sexually molesting students by touching them.

I sympathize with teachers who have come to fear even patting a student on the back, but come on. No one’s going to be charged with sexual abuse for reacting to a medical emergency. The Heimlich maneuver and CPR are far more intimate ways of touching someone else, and I don’t think teachers would face any problems using those emergency responses either.

The worries mentioned by teachers are a painful reminder of how fearful they have had to become in their jobs in recent years. At the same time, it’s depressing to think of any kind of employee, any kind of person, putting concerns about very improbable aftermaths ahead of the ability to save a child’s life.

As one school staffer wrote in a response to my previous post, “I can’t believe that this is even an issue. No teacher I know would place self-interest over the life of a student.” Save a life first, sweat any details later. Or more likely be known as a hero. As the commenter added,“Liability, schmiability!” I don’t think anyone could express it better.

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