Taser Heart Risk Highlighted By New Study

Although the manufacturer of the Taser stun gun has maintained that the device delivers a non-life threatening electrical charge, new research suggests that a Taser shot to the chest may lead to cardiac arrest and sudden death.

In a study published this week by the medical journal Circulation, a researcher from the Indiana University School of Medicine examined the heart risks with Taser X26 stun guns, finding that the electrical charge can cause irregular heart rhythms and cardiac arrest.

Taser stun guns are widely used by law enforcement agencies to allow officers to subdue unruly suspects without having to resort to firearms. The weapons are designed to incapacitate neuromuscular function by delivering a shock that uses Electro-Muscular Disruption tecnology.

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As part of the study, Dr. Douglas Zipes examined data on eight men between the ages of 16 and 48 who were struck by a Taser X26 gun between 2006 and 2009, and went into cardiac arrest. All of the men lost consciousness and all but one died after Taser exposure. Six of the men developed severe heart rhythm problems after being hit by the electrical shock delivered by the weapons, according to the report.

According to a report by the New York Times, a spokesman for Taser International, the manufacturer, has questioned the findings, suggesting that prior work done by the study’s author on behalf of plaintiffs who have brought Taser injury lawsuits against the company may raise questions about the findings.

While Taser weapons have been credited for preventing deaths and serious injuries that may have resulted from other means of apprehending aggressive individuals, concerns have increased in recent years about the overuse and abuse of the weapons, highlighted by a number deaths that have occurred shortly after Taser use.

In October 2011, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) released a report that estimated 15% of Taser shootings examined were clearly inappropriate, routinely being used on subjects who were unarmed and posed no physical threat. In addition, more than a third of the cases examined by the NYCLU involved multiple or prolonged shocks, and in 27% of the incidents police officers shot the Taser in the victim’s chest.

Amnesty International released a report in 2008, calling for police departments throughout the United States to stop using Taser guns or to strictly limit their use to life-threatening situations. The human rights group linked 334 deaths to the use of Taser guns between 2001 and August 2009, noting that 90% of Taser deaths examined involved people who were unarmed and did not appear to present a serious threat to the officers.

Taser International has vigorously defended the safety of their weapons, challenging many media reports that linked deaths to Taser use and maintaining that there is no evidence that Tasers pose a heart risk when used reasonably. However, new recommendations were added to the Taser training manual in 2009, indicating that officers should not directly aim for the chest.

At that time, the company suggested that the warning against Taser chest shots was issued to help limit liability exposure, as the possibility of someone having a cardiac arrest after being shot with a Taser could put the manufacturer and police department in the difficult role of having to determine whether the stun gun was a contributing factor.


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