Clinton Enacts Federal Defibrillator Law

Wed. November 15, 2000 12:00 AM by Newstream

Washington DC - President Clinton signed into law the nation's first legislation recognizing the lifesaving role played by automated external defibrillators (AEDs). The new measure requires federal action that is expected to accelerate the widespread use of AEDs in the battle against sudden cardiac arrest, one of the nation's leading killers. Cardiac arrest is a major U.S. health problem and causes about 225,000 sudden deaths each year among U.S. adults.

The new law, called the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act, highlights the need for making AEDs, easy-to-use, portable lifesaving devices, the "standard of care" for emergency cardiac situations in public gathering places such as airports, shopping malls, stadiums, convention centers, schools and office buildings.

The new legislation requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop recommendations and guidelines for AED placement and use in federal buildings and augments existing state "Good Samaritan" laws by ensuring federal liability protection for users and purchasers of AEDs. The measure also establishes a new three-year, $25 million program to improve access to emergency defibrillation in rural areas.

Sudden cardiac arrest can strike anyone, anywhere and at any time and is usually caused by ventricular fibrillation, an ineffective quivering of the heart muscle that makes it unable to pump blood throughout the body. Once blood stops circulating, victims quickly lose consciousness and will die within minutes if they don't receive effective treatment. Each day, nearly 1,000 Americans suffer from sudden cardiac arrest - usually away from a hospital. More than 95 percent of them die, in many cases, because lifesaving defibrillators arrive on the scene too late, if at all.

Sen. Bill Frist, M.D. of Tennessee, a heart surgeon and leading co-sponsor of the new measure, hailed its enactment as "a fundamental first step to assure that cardiac arrest is not a death sentence. Widespread placement of AEDs in federal buildings will save lives, but communities still need to do more. We need to make portable, easy-to-use external defibrillators as readily available as first-aid supplies and fire extinguishers in all major public gathering places."

AEDs are about the size of a portable laptop computer and provide brief, but powerful, electrical stimulation to the person's chest, interrupting the ventricular fibrillation and helping to restore the heart's natural rhythm. Survival rates from sudden cardiac arrest drop about 10 percent with each passing minute before defibrillation.

Richard O. Martin, president of Medtronic Physio-Control, the world's leading manufacturer of easy-to-use, portable heart defibrillators, said his organization is very pleased that Congress has passed and President Clinton has signed the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act. "The landmark legislation signifies a major vote of confidence in AED therapy," said Martin. "Thousands will owe their lives to the congressional backers of this new law."

This act was cosponsored by more than 130 legislators and was backed by a coalition of more than 30 health care organizations. Martin and Medtronic Physio-Control applauded the outstanding congressional leadership team of Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington; Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida; Sen. Frist; Rep. Tom Bliley of Virginia; and, Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont for introducing the bill and ensuring its passage.

Both the House and Senate approved the new legislation. The President first announced support of this legislation in a radio address as part of a new set of measures designed to save the lives of Americans suffering from sudden cardiac arrest.

More than 40,000 AEDs have been deployed in police cars, commercial airliners, airports, hotels and casinos, sports arenas, high schools, manufacturing plants and other public places. In hearings over the past two years, legislators heard dramatic testimony from cardiac arrest survivors and emergency service directors and viewed a casino surveillance video that showed the rescue of a victim using a Medtronic Physio-Control LIFEPAK(R) 500 automated external defibrillator. The new legislation also supports the American Heart Association's newly published guidelines that urge wider use of defibrillators and encourages communities to adopt a goal of reaching sudden cardiac arrest victims with an AED within five minutes.

Sen. Frist called attention to the efforts of such "heart-safe" cities as Houston, TX, and Bartlesville, OK, which should be cited as models for the rest of the nation. To augment the cities' emergency response systems, AEDs are being deployed throughout these communities.

"Technology has advanced to the point where real people can make a significant difference," said Susan Martenson, R.N.C.E.N., vice president of Jane Phillips Medical Center, Bartlesville, and a cardiopulmonary resuscitation instructor for 32 years. Using funds received for participation in clinical research, Martenson and Dr. Patrick Tinker, cardiologist, have led Bartlesville's "Project Heart-Save," a community effort of their hospital that has trained more than 300 residents in the city of 35,000 to use AEDs. The program also has placed about 20 of the devices in buildings such as the hospital's wellness center, medical office clusters, the county courthouse, country club, YMCA, the senior nutrition center, a technical college and a shopping mall.

News, photos provided by Newstream