Yesterday the media went crazy over the idea that Tasers may be useful in hospital emergency departments. The story was given legitimacy by the fact that it was reported from the conference of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.
According to the AAP article that was given high placement on many of the Fairfax websites, “research shows [tasers] can also be used effectively by hospital guards”.
“Tasers reduced injuries to staff and patients at a US hospital while also helping to control ‘unruly’ visitors.”
The ABC and the Sydney Morning Herald also reported the story — although to their credit, unlike the ABC and AAP, the SMH’s article didn’t hype up the “usefulness” of Tasers, but rather focused simply on the fact that they had been used.
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One glaring omission was made by all: the author of the study, Dr Jeffrey Ho from the Department of Emergency Medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and Meeker County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota, is a known proponent of Tasers who receives a large amount of research funding from Taser International.
Oh yes, and of course he also owns shares in Taser International.
Furthermore, the international expert who was presenting the paper, Dr Donald Dawes, has also been in the pay of Taser International.
Of course, none of this was mentioned in the press release put out by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine — perhaps why none of the journalists mentioned it — but it is freely available in Google searches.
In fact, when Dr Ho was testifying in defence of Tasers at the hearing into the death of a Polish man after he was tasered at a Canadian airport, he admitted as much himself.
“There is a contract that exists between Taser International and my full-time employer, and so I receive my standard pay cheque from my employer and Taser basically pays the contract to allow research work to be done on their behalf,” he said.
He went on to call himself a “consultant of Taser International” (and also to defend the independence of his work).
Surely it should have at least been mentioned that the author of the paper suggesting that Tasers could be used safely in hospitals is a self-described “consultant” for Taser International?
This paper was suggesting that it is acceptable to use a potentially lethal electroshock on patients who are in need of the care of a hospital. Many people would consider that a barbaric idea, and one that is at odds with the fundamental purpose of medicine.
It is shocking — excuse the pun — that despite this not a single journalist, nor the college of emergency medicine, thought it relevant to mention the clear and worrying conflict of interest undermining the strength of this research.