I've been thinking a lot about the Rule of Rescue (RoR) since our last class. I'm interested in wilderness emergency medicine so this topic caught my attention.
I took a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course in Minnesota last winter which teaches students how to assess risk and deal with injury in the back country.
As a trip leader, one of the questions we were forced to think about is if we were to encounter a severely injured stranger while leading a trip through the back country how would you react? You could jeopardize the success of your trip by helping this individual. Do you do it anyways?
I believe the answer is almost always yes. However, the debate really comes down to if you can safely leave your trip. As the responder it is ultimately your decision. It is an issue of morality and safety. If I could safely leave my group the answer is absolutely yes. Will my co-leader be safe with the group if I go to attempt rescue? Will I be putting my participants, my co-leader, or myself at serious risk by going? Is successful rescue a viable and feasible option? It's my duty as a human being to do my best to save an identified endangered life. However, if for some reason my group cannot safely be left it's an entirely different issue... I have young, healthy people that it is my contracted job to protect. How would I reconcile or deal with this?
In the case of Everest the Japanese team argue that they could not have safely carried the endangered down so they continue to the summit. However, the way the event is recalled indicates that they did not try anything before making this assertion. (If, in fact the assertion is accurate and not just a cover for their selfish desire to continue the climb.) To see a body in the snow and assume they are dead, if it is not initially clear, is wrong. The division between ethical and unethical seems to me to fall where you have tried everything you can and contacted everyone who could possibly help before deciding it is in fact not feasible or too risky for you as a responder. This is the only way that I can accept ignoring the chance to save a severely endangered life.