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Every human life deserves the highest respect

SHARE Every human life deserves the highest respect

The court case for the second of two individuals charged with attacking and killing retired New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum last January has run its course, a conviction secured.

But issues surrounding the circumstances of Rosenbaum's death — and indeed the value of not only his life, but yours and mine as well — will probably never be completely resolved.

In some ways, the veteran reporter was killed more than once. First, by the two men who robbed him and beat him with a pipe, before leaving him grievously injured on the sidewalk where he fell after the attack. And again by a seemingly indifferent emergency medical system that apparently made snap judgments about his value as a human and failed to care for him properly.

He died in January after being attacked and robbed while on an after-dinner walk in a Washington, D.C., suburb, according to news reports from the past few months.

The Times and other papers reported that his care was bungled from start to finish.

According to the reports, he'd had a drink with dinner, and after the attack, he threw up. So would-be rescuers smelled alcohol and vomit on his breath and decided he was a drunk who'd passed out. It seems that drunks didn't merit very attentive care that night.

The ambulance that was sent to get him was not an advanced life-support unit, although one was available at the time. To make things worse, the ambulance crew got lost on the way, so even inadequate care was delayed. Someone on the crew then allegedly decided that, since he was just drunk, his care needs had no great urgency, and he was not taken to the nearest hospital, but rather to one that was in a more convenient location for one of the ambulance crew (since dismissed), who wanted to go home for some toothache medication, according to various reports, including an investigation by the inspector general following Rosenbaum's death.

Dropped at the hospital, his true condition was not communicated to the staff, which in essence parked him off to the side for over an hour before someone realized he had a severe brain trauma, according to the news reports.

He might not have survived his initial injuries anyway. But the way events unfolded made his survival unlikely.

There's been a maelstrom of outrage, punishment meted out and promises for reform since it happened.

But there's a question that has basically gone unanswered, at least in the reports I've combed. A question that should be grappled with by every community.

What if he had been the passed-out drunk the emergency crews seemed to think he was?

I'd like to believe the level of care Rosenbaum received early on would not have been OK, regardless of who he was or how he came to that spot on the sidewalk. But the truth is, I suspect, we all make judgments about an individual's value and we act accordingly.

Someone who's homeless and inebriated may be viewed differently than, say, the member of the prominent political family or the celebrity who gets tanked up and needs care, although I'm afraid the difference eludes me.

It's very easy to start assigning value based on vague first impressions. And it's been my experience that first impressions are more often wrong than right.

Many years ago, at the scene of an auto crash in my hometown, one of the drivers was very disoriented. It was assumed almost immediately that he was not only responsible for what happened, but that he was either drunk or stoned. He wasn't treated with much kindness or respect.

He was not drunk or stoned. Turns out he sustained a head injury in the crash and was disoriented. Sorting out the cause would take a bit more work than that early, easy assessment. But who he was should never have made a difference in the care provided or the consideration shown him.

Deseret Morning News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by e-mail at lois@desnews.com