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Jun 26, 2009

Spin cycle: tasers in hospitals -- who paid for the research?

The media went crazy for the Tasers in hospitals story yesterday, but they made one glaring ommission, writes freelance journalist Amy Corderoy.

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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.

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.

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2 comments

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2 thoughts on “Spin cycle: tasers in hospitals — who paid for the research?

  1. Gail Tuft

    Taser International have sued medical examiners (similar to our forensic pathologists but with broader legal responsibilities) in the USA to prevent the of taser being noted as a cause of death. This means there is no way to track the real figures associated with the use of tasers.
    http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2008/05/02/20080502taser0503.html

    Most medical examiners are now reluctant to state that the use of tasers was the cause of death, effectively preventing any investigation of the behaviour of law enforcement agencies that use them.

    The paranoia of Taser International even extends to the internet and virtual worlds. They are proposing litigation against Second Life for virtual tasers http://techdirt.com/articles/20090421/1310304599.shtml

  2. Rudolf Strasser

    Quite apart from the financial entanglements of the good doctor, may it not be possible, that tasers might save lives in the emergency ward.
    Mcuire or whatever his name was, might have used a taser, instead of his usually trusted Swiss army knife, to bring back a person from cardiac arrest.
    S o go for it, emergency staff. If you don’t like that insane person,continually asking to see a doctor, while at the same time he or she is refusing to mop up the blood, pouring out of the knife inflictided chest wound, USE THE TASER. At the very least the person should stop complaining. The best of all outcomes would be him going into cardial arest.USE THE TASER AGAIN. There are 2 outcomes from this scene.
    He or she might be brought back from th brink of death and thank you for what you have done to save his/her life, grateful forever for saving his/her life and leaving you all of their misapopriated fortune orthe could sue you for using the taser in an unapropriate manner.
    So let’s go and use tasers all over. They are after all the ultimate remedie to stop cops shooting
    people, armed with a kitchen knife or something the like.
    Being, at least supposedly, non-leathal,I find it hard to see, why this instrument would not be
    used as an instrument of torture-(let’s give him anotherone, no-one will ever know).
    The world has turned around on us. Instead of the police protecting us from the socalled baddies, we seem to have to protect ourselves from the police.

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