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A life-saving law

Rachael Fiege’s parents aren’t blaming anyone for their 18-year-old daughter’s death. Their tragedy, however, can at least serve as a reminder of an important law passed in 2012.

Fiege, an Indiana University freshman, died last week after she fell down a flight of stairs at an off-campus party in Bloom- ington. It was only after they noticed she was not breathing – six hours later – that other party-goers called for an ambulance.

No one can say she would be OK if they had called earlier for medical assistance. But you can say that Indiana’s Lifeline Law, approved unanimously last year, has the potential to save other parents from the same heartbreak they surely are experiencing. The law is designed to remove the threat of arrest for alcohol-related offenses by granting immunity to those who call for help in an emergency. The person must stay by the scene offering assistance until emergency responders arrive and then cooperate with authorities.

The law was approved with a boost from students, including Fort Wayne native Brad Krites, a former Purdue University student government president who campaigned on and implemented a campus-wide medical amnesty policy on the West Lafayette campus.

“In too many cases ... students were hesitant to come to the aid or summon aid to a friend who had overindulged in alcohol, sometimes with tragic consequences,” then-Gov. Mitch Daniels said when he signed the bill. “And they hesitated because they were afraid of bringing trouble down on themselves.”

The measure is most likely to come into play on college campuses, but it also applies to high school students who drink. The same weekend that Fiege died, two minors in South Bend were granted immunity after they sought help for a severely intoxicated 22-year-old at an off-campus party near the University of Notre Dame. Other underage drinkers fled the scene when police arrived and were cited.

Sen. Jim Merritt, the Indianapolis Republican who authored the lifeline law, now is visiting high schools and campuses across Indiana to talk about the protections offered for doing the right thing. He also teamed up with Bloomington’s Big Red Liquors in a program to place posters in its 13 liquor stores and informational fliers in customer bags.

Ongoing publicity about the alcohol-related immunity law is the key to its success. As with the state’s Safe Haven Law, which allows anyone to leave an infant inside a hospital emergency room, fire or police station without fear of prosecution, education about the Lifeline Law must be ongoing. The young people the laws target are continually changing.

Next weekend, next year or in five years the Lifeline Law could, literally, save a life.