Temurun Waterfall, Langkawi, Malaysia.
This is the highest waterfall in Langkawi. After a flight of stairs, I arrived at the base of the waterfall. There was a pool of water at the base of the waterfall, which was a superb playground for the young. As I was catching my breath, a few of the kids were climbing up the wall of the waterfall. They fearlessly ventured several times their height against the falling waters, some 10 meters above the pool by my estimates. There was a time when I would have considered it as child's play, and reckoned it just as fun.
However, quite a few years had marked the distance between the us. Instead, I silently pondered the possibility of them hitting their head on the rock while jumping down. At the entrance, only mere 100 meters away from the waterfall, a sign clearly indicated that climbing was prohibited. Although unlikely, nevertheless the possibility existed.
My eyes closed for a few seconds as I envisioned the scene of the accident: a boy floating unconsciously face down in the water, having impacted a rock on the back of his head during his fall; screams and panic ripples through the crowd of teens and bystanders. The body of water is stained with a shade of crimson, and the familiar scent of blood pollutes the air. I asked myself: what would I do?
I considered the image of myself rushing to his aid, applying pressure on the wound and taking vital signs. A quick assessment of neurological functions if his vitals were okay. Demand the bystanders to call for paramedics.
However, deep inside, I knew it was not going to be my choice of action.
Numerous arguments blazed through my head. My license was not recognized in this country. An immense language barrier exists. I have no idea what religious or legislative regulations were in place. All these arguments were perfectly valid, but the question was whether it was enough to stop me from helping another human being.
I wondered what I would have done at the age of 18, before my medical education. Quite possibly different.
If – with my capabilities as a doctor – came with the responsibility of helping someone in need, did it also come with the responsibility to stop others from being harmed? Or, furthermore, to stop them from harming themselves? Did I have the moral obligation to stop the teens from climbing that waterfall, right this instant? Of course, their compliance to my orders would be virtually nonexistent. Would I still have the responsibility to rescue them then?
Ethics issues discussed in the classroom were often based on true cases. Still, the cases always seemed distant and virtual, until one is unexpectedly dropped in your own hands. All of a sudden, a decision is needed, one that may not have the luxury of being discussed upon in a ethics committee. The decision is made by one alone, and it is the decisions we make that define who we are.
Truth be told, I was very disturbed by the choice I had made. I left the scene in a hurry, before anyone could attempt a jump and realize my fears, for I would have to live with that decision for the rest of my life.