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When it comes to life-saving CPR, men are too worried about touching women: Teitel

When it comes to life-saving CPR, men are too worried about touching women: Teitel
Canada
According to two first-aid professionals, many students begin first-aid class harbouring a host of fears about performing CPR — from getting sued, to contracting a disease, to being accused of sexual misconduct.  (Dreamstime)  

National Columnist

Tues., Nov. 14, 2017

If you’ve been reading the news lately you may be under the impression that a lot of men have a tendency to put their hands on women without first obtaining consent. Now it appears, at least in one context, that not enough men are putting their hands on women without obtaining consent — and they really ought to get to it.

I’m not referring to sexual assault, nor am I suggesting that our society needs more of it (as if). I’m talking about first aid and the apparent reluctance by some men to perform CPR on women.

According to a new study published by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, women suffering cardiac arrest are less likely than men to receive CPR from bystanders in public spaces. The study looked at more than 19,000 cases around the United States in which people suffered cardiac arrest in public, and researchers determined that while 45 per cent of men were given CPR by bystanders, only 39 per cent of women received the procedure.

One possible reason for this discrepancy? Researchers believe that some male bystanders may be hesitant to perform CPR on women because they don’t want to touch their chests. After all, CPR requires that a rescuer press down on the chest of the person who needs saving.

And if this person happens to be a woman, it follows that a rescuer’s hands could, if only by accident, brush up against her breasts. Men may fear that if the woman involved comes to, she may not take kindly to a guy crouching next to her with his hands on her chest (though I’m guessing she’d be stoked to be alive, not scandalized).

If this fear sounds totally ludicrous, that’s because it is. So-called Good Samaritan laws tend to protect anyone on this continent who is accused of a crime after performing CPR on a person in distress (even if that person doesn’t regain consciousness).

And as I mentioned earlier, the likelihood that a woman would be offended that a man accidentally touched or exposed her breasts in the act of saving her life is extremely low — unless she values modesty more than she values breathing.

But ludicrous or not, this fear persists. I spoke to two CPR professionals who told me that though they hope men don’t walk away from CPR instruction afraid to perform the procedure on women, many students begin first-aid class harbouring a host of fears about performing CPR — from getting sued, to contracting a disease, to being accused of sexual misconduct. However, maintains Lyle Karasiuk, the national chair for the Canadian Council for First Aid Education of the Canadian Red Cross, “I think our instructors do an excellent job of addressing gender issues and our materials reflect that right now.”

Chris Riedesser, director of education at first-aid clinic Lifesaver 101 in Etobicoke, would probably agree. “Nobody should leave a CPR course thinking that (gender) has anything to do with the price of eggs.”

And yet the data shows that they might. On a personal note, I’m not surprised by this. I’m not a first aid expert like the men quoted above, but I am a woman who very briefly studied first aid, and I can tell you that though I had no issues performing mock CPR on my male partner in my camp swim class, he became painfully awkward when it was his turn to perform the procedure on me. I had to practically force his hands onto my chest because he tensed up like a boy fumbling to unhook a girl’s bra for the first time in his life. “Are you sure this is OK?” he asked me more than once.

If my male partner was this apprehensive about putting his hands on my chest after I gave him explicit consent to do so in the context of a classroom assignment, how might he react in a real-life emergency situation involving an unconscious woman? It’s not difficult to imagine that he might freeze up and do nothing.

This reluctance to act in order to preserve a woman’s dignity or spare her embarrassment is well meaning. But it’s also fundamentally insulting, dangerous and, yes, sexist. I think I can speak for all of womankind when I say that we would prefer to be dishevelled and alive than untouched and dead. Men, if the moment calls for it, please push down on our chests.
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