Don’t Tase Me, Bro!

Don’t tase me, bro!

These words were first uttered by Andrew Meyer, a 21-year-old fourth-year undergraduate telecommunications student on September 17, 2007 in a University of Florida lecture hall when he was forcibly escorted from the hall by the security officers because he would not stop questioning U.S. Senator John Kerry. He was pinned down on the floor and was about to be tasered when he spoke these words. Since then these words have become part of our lexicon.

In November, 2007 Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant to Canada was tasered at the Vancouver airport and subsequently died. About two weeks ago, a 17-year old was tasered in Winnipeg and subsequently died. Death after being tasered has been reported many a times. “In fact, media reports to date have documented over 300 such deaths, 20 in Canada. Critics charge that tasers are too dangerous, that independent studies evaluating their safety are urgently needed and that a moratorium should be placed on their use,” says an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

But Taser International (makers of Taser) has always maintained that taser is not directly responsible for any deaths. It has never been proven in a court of law that taser has directly killed anybody. The company says that taser cannot stop the heart. United Nations has classified the taser as a form of torture.

A news item in the July 15, 2008 issue of the CMAJ says, “Taser International Inc. suffered its first product liability suit loss in roughly 70 instances after a California district court ruled that it was 15 per cent responsible in the death of a 40-year-old drug suspect who died after receiving simultaneous shots from 3 tasers used by police officers. The jury awarded US$1.02 million in compensatory damages, as well as US$5.2 million in punitive damages, for Taser International’s failure to inform police that extended exposure to electric shock from the device could lead to cardiac arrest. The company said it plans to appeal the decision.”

Taser International and law enforcing agencies consider Taser as a valuable tool for subduing criminals and safeguarding the lives of law enforcement personnel. Others consider this as a potentially lethal weapon. What does medical science think?

In the May 20, 2008 issue of the CMAJ, taser is described as “an emerging and increasingly popular medical device.” The review article in the CMAJ says that Taser has potentially lethal effects in animals and humans. But Taser International says that Taser is safe and has sponsored research to prove this point. Has any independent medical research institution sponsored research to prove this point?

Taser International says that taser does not kill but a medical condition; “excited delirium” kills the person after being zapped by a taser. Excited delirium is not a recognized clinical condition. But it is being suggested by certain people that taser should be used to treat excited delirium. Does that mean taser now be considered a medical device? Can taser satisfy rigorous scientific standards through clinical trials before it is accepted as a medical device?

CMAJ article says, “New and independent research, both epidemiologic and biological, into whether tasers can kill is essential to settle this issue. Also, law enforcement agencies could be made to open up their databases on taser use for independent analysis, on the principle that the assertion that tasers have saved lives of police and suspects alike, while plausible, should be proven, not merely asserted as fact.”

I wonder when will this happen. In the meantime, don’t tase me, bro!

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