21 May 2008

heart experts warn tasers deadly

Heart experts warn Tasers deadly
Suzanne Fournier, The Province
Published: Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tasers can cause fatal cardiac arrest and are even more dangerous if the subject is agitated, stressed and experiencing pain from the high-voltage device, two top Vancouver heart specialists said Tuesday.

Dr. Michael Janusz, a heart surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital and UBC told the Braidwood Inquiry into Taser use Tuesday that "Tasers almost certainly can cause cardiac arrest in humans, particularly in people with underlying heart disease."

Janusz told retired judge Tom Braidwood that the risk of dying after being Tasered is similar to the chances of dying after major heart surgery

Janusz quoted San Francisco cardiologist Dr. Zian Tseng's findings of about "1.4 per cent mortality for individuals subdued by police using a Taser.. (which) is similar to the mortality risk of a coronary artery bypass operation."

And Dr. Charles Kerr, a "cardiac electrophysiologist" at St. Paul's and UBC, said that police should routinely carry defibrillators if they plan to employ Tasers and should be trained to initiate resuscitation after using the Taser on someone who is then unresponsive.

Kerr said that although the Taser may be "better than a bullet" and may have its place in policing, he is also concerned about the potential effect Tasering could have on the approximately 35,000 British Columbians who have either a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).

Outside the inquiry, Janusz said he had viewed the bystander video of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski being Tasered at the Vancouver airport and dropping to the floor seconds later, jerking his legs spasmodically and then falling motionless.

"That was really awful, a tragedy," said Janusz.

The inquiry continues Tuesday afternoon with the evidence of a New Westminster police sergeant.

Braidwood is inquiring into Taser use by municipal police, sheriffs and corrections officers and in the fall, will hold a further inquiry into Dziekanski's death, once the RCMP investigations are complete.