Should the death of a child be a strong enough motivator for change? Or should change require a lawsuit?

Shawn Martinez has filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against the New York City's Department of Education, two nurses and their employer, Comprehensive Resources Inc.

The lawsuit states that school policy prevented nurses from calling 911 to help his 11-year-old son, also named Shawn. For some incomprehensible reason, the school rules barred nurses from calling 911 without the principal's permission. The problem was that when Shawn Martinez had trouble breathing, the principal of the school could not be found.

An hour after the asthma attack started 11 year old Shawn Martinez was dead.

Former school nurse Maryellen Johnson said in her deposition that the nurses were bound by the school policy that they could not call 911 unless they first get permission from the principal.

If there is something even more horrible about this story it is this: no change was implemented in this policy until three years later, when the $2 million dollar lawsuit was filed. If was only then that public school principals citywide were told that 911 calls shouldn't be delayed in life-threatening situations. "Please ensure that your entire staff is aware of these requirements," read part of the weekly letter e-mailed to the city's 1,451 principals.

This story highlights something so ugly I hate to think about it. We have become so lawsuit sensitive and so follow-the-rules obsessed that we paint ourselves into a corner and allow our children to die. The death of a child won't make us change our policy — just a lawsuit will.

But not all is lost. This horrible story was contrasted by two encouraging "hero" stories this month.

Julio Gonzalez, 43, and Pedro Nevarez, 40, saw 3-year-old Timothy Addo dangling from a Bronx building on Thursday, and caught him as he fell four stories.

Wesley Autrey jumped onto the tracks on the NY city subway system to save the life of a student. Though he was called a hero, some have said that he was foolish to risk his own life especially considering the fact that his two young daughters were with him.

Would anyone have faulted Wesley Autrey had he not jumped onto the tracks? Others were standing there with him and did not act as he did. Maybe some would not even have blamed Gonzalez and Nevarez had they just stood there and let the child fall—after all, there was some risk for harm to themselves when the toddler dropped on them from four flights up, and I shudder to think what their lawyer would would have advised them to do...

The Jew is no stranger to rules and regulations. We have a Torah that gives us detailed instructions on everything from how to get up in the morning to how to go to sleep at night, from how a newborn infant is welcomed into the world to how a departed loved one is laid to rest. But that same Torah also tells us that virtually all its laws must be set aside in situation in which a life is in danger. At such times, we must disregard the rules. In fact, our sages have some very critical words to say about someone who starts asking too many questions in such situations. Now that person might only be trying to do the right thing. He might simply want to know: Is this really a life-threatening situation? Should I just disregard rule A.160(b) or also rule D.21(j)? What's so terrible if he has a five-minute conversation with his lawyer?

But the Torah leaves us no such wiggle room. When a person's life is in danger, or simply might be in danger, it's not a time to worry about the rules. It's a time to act swiftly and decisively to save a life.