Tasering of patients

Dutch daily Trouw prominently featured anger about a human rights violation on its 6 September front page (online version).

Not only had Dutch police tasered a patient in so-called drive-stun mode (“pain compliance“), the patient in question already was in solitary confinement.

I was shocked when I read this. It seems to signal a return to practices I thought we had left behind a long time ago, and it particularly worries me that this happened in the Netherlands of all places.

“This is torture,” say Amnesty International as well as organizations of patients and their relatives, and Amnesty has called for an immediate suspension of the use of this type of weapon by Dutch police, so I understand. According to Trouw, the taser’s manufacturer advises against use on psychiatric patients and Amnesty believes taser use may actually be life-threatening in such cases.

This is likely the first time a taser was used to subdue a hospitalized psychiatric patient in the Netherlands, where three-hundred police officers are currently testing tasers.

The following appears to have transpired.

On 17 July, police officers were called to a hospital in Cappelle aan de IJssel, in which a male patient in his twenties was having a psychotic episode. (When Dutch police are called to a hospital for a problem with a patient, police take over responsibility.)

The patient was having a bad day, apparently, and had refused to take his antipsychotic medicines. Rotterdam police were first called to force the patient into solitary confinement (to reduce sensory input and calm the patient down).

In the evening, police were called again, for unknown reasons. That’s when the tasering occurred.

The patient’s mother, Marijke Bos, found out about the incident a few days later during a visit on her son’s birthday. Her son had dark bruises under his eyes, several bruises on one of his hips and roughly thirty small taser-related lesions on his back. The patient had also been tasered on one of his feet.

The patient’s mother has filed several formal complaints.

The hospital staff reportedly is also extremely dismayed about the taser use.

Solitary confinement in itself can be damaging and can be seen as a human rights violation. Tasering a patient who already is in solitary confinement and clearly no danger to anyone else raises eyebrows, to put it mildly.

It seems to me that tasering in drive-stun mode is even worse than using a baseball bat to knock someone out as it deliberately causes pain, so it is more comparable to stabbing someone with a knife or throwing scalding water or oil.

The incident made me wonder about taser use on patients in other countries and I did a quick web search. It is not clear whether other reports of taser use on patients concern drive-stun mode or probe mode, but probe mode is the usual taser mode.

New Zealand police used a taser on a mentally ill man earlier this year as well and it was the country’s second case this year in which taser use against a mentally ill person was ruled (excessive and) unjustified:

“Police told the 21-year-old he would need to be strip searched, the man repeatedly refused to remove his clothes telling the officers he had a history of sexual abuse and didn’t feel comfortable being touched by males.”

In Britain, even taser use in general has turned out to concern mainly mentally ill persons, according to Home Office figures:

Taser use against patients in hospitals has already around in Britain for more than ten years:

The consensus appears to be that this is a big no-no:

I agree with Matilda MacAttram (director of Black Mental Health UK and writer of the above article in the Guardian) that there is no role for police in mental healthcare, just like police have no business in heart surgeries and appendectomies either.

See also this article:

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