Can a volunteer legally intervene when a person is determined to take his own life?

Maryport Rescue volunteer Alex Wood has posed that question in an article published in the international SAR Rescue Magazine.

Mr Wood, 25, from the Wigton area, works in a Whitehaven legal office but is still an active volunteer with Maryport Rescue.

His legal background prompted him to look at the consequences of rescuing someone who wants to take their own life and the split-second decisions that have to be made during a rescue.

Mr Wood co-wrote the article with Annemarie Esler of Northern Ireland and Aimee Goodman from Leeds.

They explored rescue within the context of legal rights and mental health issues.

Basically, Mr Wood said, volunteers had to assess if a person was of sound mind or had reduced mental capacity that prevented him making a concious decision.

"Your instinct tell you to save someone - that's what you are volunteering to do. But what happens if the guy is on sound mind and the next thing you know you have a letter through the door saying you are going to be sued."

Mr Wood said it was unlikely any court would uphold the case against a volunteer.

"There is a difference though.Police and paramedics and the like have the weight of their institutions behind them. In the case of Maryport Rescue, for instance, you have a plumber who has done some training. But rescue isn't his day job and he is acting in a situation that is not normal for him."

The authors have drawn up a flow chart for volunteers to carry which looks at when rescue measures can be carried out without consent (when there is an immediate threat to life) and when it would be advisable to seek consent.