In the (vast, vast) majority of cases, it’s absolutely inexcusable for anyone, much less a stranger, to open a woman’s blouse and touch her chest. In the rare case where a woman is suffering a heart attack, however, the unwillingness to do just that is contributing to her likeliness to die.
According to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania and discussed at the American Heart Association conference, women are less likely to receive life-saving CPR when suffering cardiac arrest in public spaces. During a cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating, and although survival rates are not great, CPR can double to triple the odds. The research looked at almost 20,000 cases around the country and concluded that only 39 percent of women were given CPR by strangers as opposed to 45 percent of men, and men were 23 percent more likely to survive. Researchers think that the unwillingness to touch a woman’s chest is one reason.
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Study lead Audrey Blewer tells the Associated Press that “it can be kind of daunting thinking about pushing hard and fast on the center of a woman’s chest” and some may fear that they are hurting her or worry about having to remove the woman’s clothing or touching her breasts. University of Pennsylvania ER doctor, Benjamin Abella, MD, also worked on the study, says the proper way to administer CPR, however, shouldn’t entail that. “You put your hands on the sternum, which is the middle of the chest. In theory, you’re touching in between the breasts,” he adds. “This is not a time to be squeamish because it’s a life and death situation.”
This is the first study to look at how men and women are treated differently in this type of situation due to their perceived gender. Interestingly, even though there was a discrepancy in how willing strangers were willing to help administer CPR on men versus women, no difference was seen in CPR rates when the cardiac arrest happened at home. The findings suggest that CPR training and education may need to be improved—down to the fact that most practice mannequins are usually male.