Responsibility and the Duty of Rescue

What difference might it make to the duty of rescue if the victim is responsible for needing to be rescued? I first distinguish the natural duty of rescue owed by one person to another as a result of a chance encounter, from the artificial duties of rescue that may be created by agreement among participants in high-risk activities. Focussing on the former, I examine three ways in which the victim’s responsibility might lessen the stringency of the duty of rescue: by lowering the cost threshold above which rescue ceases to be a duty; by lessening the force of the duty when it has to compete with other duties of justice; and by making the duty unenforceable by third parties. I then consider different ways in which the victim might be responsible for needing rescue: through simple negligence, through deliberately taking risks, and through engaging in wrongful behaviour. The upshot is that there are only two circumstances in which the duty of rescue is entirely eliminated as a duty: when by virtue of repeated risk-taking, the victim unfairly imposes excessive costs on his rescuer, and when rescuing the victim would allow him to continue threatening harm to others. The paper’s concluding section, however, defends allowing responsibility considerations to qualify the natural duty of rescue in other cases, as previously detailed. Rescue should not be a responsibility-free zone.