At least 50 people, including six last month, have died afer being shocked by Tasers, reports the New York Times. Taser International says its weapons are not lethal, even for people with heart conditions or pacemakers. The deaths resulted from drug overdoses or other factors and would have occurred anyway, the company says. The Times concludes that Taser “has scant evidence for that claim. The company’s primary safety studies on the M26, which is far more powerful than other stun guns, consist of tests on a single pig in 1996 and on five dogs in 1999.” Company-paid researchers conducted the studies, which were never published in a peer-reviewed journal. Taser has never created computer models to simulate the effect of its shocks, which are difficult to test in human clinical trials for ethical reasons.
The few independent studies that have examined the Taser have found that the weapon’s safety is unproven. The most comprehensive report, by the British government in 2002, concluded “the high-power Tasers cannot be classed, in the vernacular, as `safe.’ ” Still, Taser’s stock has soared. Patrick Smith, Taser’s chief executive, said the guns are safe. “We tell people that this has never caused a death, and in my heart and soul I believe that’s true,” he said. Taser has significantly overstated the weapon’s safety, say biomedical engineers who separately examined the company’s research at the request of The New York Times. John Wikswo, a Vanderbilt University biomedical engineer, said, “Their testing scheme has not included the possibility that there is a subset of the population that is exquisitely sensitive. That alone means they have not done adequate testing.”