Doing the right thing needed to change culture

01/09/2010

From the time I did lifesaving at high school I worried that I’d be called on to use what I’d learned but panic and not be able to do it.

The only time I’ve had to do CPR was the night our son stopped breathing. Those long ago lifesaving lessons had been reinforced by more recent ones before we’d left hospital with Tom and I automatically did what I’d been taught to do.

There weren’t a lot of options that night, but sometimes the situation isn’t so clear-cut. What if someone needed help and I didn’t recognise it, if I didn’t realise how serious the situation and made the wrong decision to not seek medical aid?

It appears this is what happened the night James Webster died.

When I saw his parents on television at the time I was amazed at how measured they were in their response, not casting blame on the people who’d been with their son, not asking what happened, how it had been allowed to happen and why no-one did anything to help him.

They still aren’t casting blame and they’re not saying James wasn’t at fault,  but they are asking questions and they’re not getting many answers.

Auckland mayor John Banks’ son was at the party and:

Banks is one of the few parents associated with that fatal night, to front up to the Websters as they desperately seek to find out exactly how their son died.

It is up to the coroner to determine what happened that night but – if the story as reported is accurate – others at the party could help the Websters put together the pieces of the puzzle over their son’s death much sooner.

One of the things which can help people come to terms with the death of someone they love, is knowing that some good can come from it and that lessons have been learned which could prevent a similar tragedy.

After meeting the Webster family, Banks grounded his son and sent him on a first aid course.

“He now knows and can recognise that when someone’s in trouble with alcohol he calls 111 – had it happened on that night James Webster would still be alive.

“I say as a father – there but for the grace of God go I.”

. . . Reporter Mark Crysell asked Banks what he said to Alex after James’ death. Banks, whose own mother drank herself to death, had an emotional response.

“Well I said to Alex this is very sad … for our families and you’re going to have to stay home and not go out at night until you’ve undertaken a comprehensive first aid course so that you understand the dangers of alcohol.”

But what of the other people there – the young people and the adults who were supervising them – who haven’t fronted up to the Websters?

Have they learned from the experience and changed?

Have all of them learned that unconsciousness is a sign of something badly wrong and it’s better to call for an ambulance for a false alarm than delay over something serious?

Has none of them drunk to excess, or encouraged someone else to do so, since James’ death?

And why haven’t they all done what they can to help the Websters?

Until they do, James’ parents won’t be able to piece together what happened. Nor will they have the comfort of knowing that those who were there have learned enough to ensure they and the people they’re with drink sensibly and safely in future.

It is dangerous to make judgements on information gained from a television story, but if this one was fair, the other people at the party should do the right thing, meet the Websters and help them understand the steps which led to their son’s death.

The government announced proposals last week to change liquor laws. The one proposal which might help prevent a repeat of this tragedy is the one which will make it illegal to supply alcohol to anyone under 18 without parental approval.

But even that law will only be effective if there is a culture change as well, one that means drunkenness isn’t acceptable and drinking to excess isn’t funny, it’s stupid and it’s dangerous.

The people who were at the party could be part of the culture change which is needed to prevent a similar tragedy happening to someone else. They could start by talking about it to the Websters.

Any  of us might not recognise how seriously ill someone was and make the wrong decision about calling for help. But I’d like to think that if I did and someone died as a result, I’d have the courage to face the family and help them understand what happened.

UPDATE: Apropos of this Roarprawn posts on teenage hell.


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