Monday, May 12, 2008

Court ordered a Chief Medical Examiner to Remove Any Reference to a Taser as an Precursor in the Deaths of Three Men

Physicians speak out on bullying tactics of Taser International over its "less than lethal" weapons

Steve Watson
Thursday, May 8, 2008

Doctors have condemned as corporate "intimidation" a court decision ordering a chief medical examiner to remove any reference to the use of a taser as an antecedent in the deaths of three men.

Ohio examiner Dr. Lisa Kohler had noted in her autopsy reports that electrical shocks from Tasers were partially to blame for the deaths of individuals in three separate confrontations with police.

Taser International, now notorious for it's stern legal defense having won 68 out of 68 lawsuits, filed and won a civil suit, forcing Kohler to delete all mentions of the weapons and to term the deaths "accidental".

Jeffrey Jentzen, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, an organization that represents the majority of medical examiners in the United States, has warned that the actions of Taser International and the court ruling have set a dangerous precedent:

"Our membership is very concerned about these cases and the reaction of Taser to these cases," he said last night.

"Our membership is looking into the area and although Taser has developed its own opinion, there are certainly opposing opinions as to their involvement in causing sudden death in individuals.

"Our organization feels that it violates the physician's ability to make a medical decision. Ordering a professional physician to change or alter their records is in violation of their right to practice medicine.

"Taser has sued a number of medical examiners for making informed medical opinions in an attempt, I think, to both protect their product and send a threatening message to medical examiners.

"It is dangerously close to intimidation," he said. "They are attempting to send a message to medical examiners that if they elect to make that determination they may face a civil suit."

Dr. Matthew Stanbrook of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) also voiced his concern over the legal ruling, stating that the decision fails to take into account the difficulty of determining an exact cause of death in almost every case.

"If we were required to have at the level of scientific and medical certainty that something was the cause of death, before we were permitted to declare it, most of the people who died in North America would have died of unknown causes," Stanbrook said.

"It is a physician making their best judgment given all the facts available."

Stanbrook has called for an independent review of the stun guns and has intimated that most of the existing research into the effects of the weapon has been carried out by, or at the behest of, Taser International itself.

Steve Tuttle, Taser's vice-president of communications responded to the comments stating:

"Taser International's products have been demonstrated by numerous medical studies to be safe and effective. Taser International therefore aggressively defends our products in all litigation brought against the company with the best legal, scientific and medical expertise available."

Despite Tuttle's claims, many scientists and doctors have raised concerns about possible links between Tasers and potential heart and respiration problems, mental health and an individual’s state of exhaustion or agitation in confrontations with authorities.

Taser International CEO Rick Smith told CBC News in January that medical examiners had to be sure of their facts because if they made what he called a careless opinion, they will be held accountable in court.

However, It is not just physicians that are raising such concerns. Amnesty International has also cited hundreds deaths around the world after Taser use and has called for a full taser suspension while a thorough investigation into the impact of the weapon is conducted.

More recently, a UN Committee said the stun gun "causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture".

Deaths occurring where tasers have been used are now a daily occurrence, yet police and private security forces worldwide continue to be equipped with the weapons.

Recent reports have revealed that police are using the Taser as soon as someone displays a "fighting stance" or simply to get a non-violent suspect to do what they are told, rather than for their intended purpose as the last line of defense before lethal action.

Most recently police in Vancouver have been using the devices on transit fare dodgers.

As we previously reported, The Department of Homeland Security is now looking to evolve the technology in pursuing the introduction of a device known as the Security Bracelet, a wearable tag that would allow authorities to inflict pain compliance on suspects from a distance, while also recommending law enforcement applications and potential use in "crowd control situations".

Many Civil Liberties Associations and police departments across North America have called for a moratorium on the weapons. The stun gun is under particular scrutiny in British Columbia, Canada as part of an ongoing inquiry following the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport in October.

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