Bill to allow EMTs to draw blood from DUI suspects

A bill introduced in the Ohio Senate would allow emergency medical workers to draw blood from drunken-driving suspects. The goal, according to Sen. Timothy Grendell, who added the provision to Senate Bill 58, is to help remove repeat drunken drivers from the road.

The State Board of Emergency Medical Services opposes the idea. Emergency workers say there are too many questions, such as: What is the chain of custody for the blood sample? Would EMS workers have to testify in court? Could police request blood samples if no one is injured in a crash? Would the process interfere with patient care?

“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,” said Jack Reall, a paramedic and president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 67. “And who, at that point, is responsible for making a decision?”

Grendell said the provision would not require that emergency workers draw the blood. But it would make blood samples admissible in court if they were taken. “States like Florida require blood draws in all accidents where people are injured or killed,” the Chesterland Republican said. “That doesn’t impede their EMTs to provide medical care to injured individuals.”

Current law allows physicians, registered nurses, qualified technicians, chemists and phlebotomists to draw blood from people suspected of using alcohol or drugs while operating motor vehicles. By adding emergency medical workers, samples might be taken sooner. The bill would give them and their agencies immunity from civil and criminal liability.

Some fear that law enforcement officials could call on emergency medical workers to take blood samples even when no one in a crash was injured. “We don’t want to be mobile forensic labs just for the purpose of drawing blood” on drunken-driving suspects, said Jim Carney, legislative director for the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters.

Jim Gilbert, president of Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9, said that would not happen. “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,” Gilbert said.

Grendell said the Ohio EMS board would write the guidelines. Board officials say drawing blood from drunken–driving suspects does not constitute emergency medicine. They said it would be a financial burden for agencies already struggling with budget cuts. “EMTs aren’t trained in evidence collection; they don’t carry the right equipment to do that,” said Richard N. Rucker, executive director of the state EMS division.

Senate Bill 58, which would make it a crime to collect blood, urine, tissue or other bodily fluids from someone without their consent, was passed by the Senate and is in the Ohio House. Grendell said details about the EMS provision would be worked out by the EMS board and local agencies, of which there are more than 1,300. But Reall wants all details written into the law. “We have not had a good history in the state of Ohio of passing legislation and having an advisory board write the rules around it,” he said.

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