A recent story from Nova Scotia, Canada, calls attention to the use of tasers to restrain or control patients.
In September 2008, Halifax police subdued a patient suffering from diabetic shock by tasering him. Paramedics on the scene were trying to determine a plan of action for giving the thrashing patient a glucose injection when police surprised them by stunning their patient with 50 000 volts of electricity.
Reportedly the paramedics had been unable to keep the patient’s arm still long enough to deliver the injection, and had mentioned within earshot of police that they were going to have to try something different. Although the exact chain of events is unclear, officers at the scene report hearing ‘someone say no” as they applied the device, but they shocked him anyway. Paramedics were then able to deliver the injection.
After an internal review by the medical director of the local Emergency Health Services, new policies have been put in place to encourage better communication between police and medical personnel on the scene. While the police will still exercise sole discretion as to when to use the taser, the new policy states that ‘the officer shall consult with paramedics to ensure the taser is the most viable alternative in controlling an aggressive patient”.
This is not the first story of its kind. In Canada alone, 17 people have died from taser use since 2003, prompting several reviews of whether the device should be banned. This is the first time, however, that a clear directive has been issued regarding the medical consequences of its use.