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Thursday, January 05, 2012

EDITORIAL: Delirious over delirium

The Globe & Mail NAILED IT in yesterday's editorial!!

January 4, 2012
Globe and Mail

Canada does not need a national delirium over “excited delirium.” This supposed cause of many deaths in police custody, including those involving the use of tasers, was laid to rest after the exhaustive Braidwood inquiry following the 2007 death of the Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

Why then has an Alberta judge ruled that Gordon Bowe, tasered and restrained by several officers, died from “excited delirium syndrome”? Why is Judge Heather Lamoureux of Alberta Provincial Court proposing everything from the training of police dispatchers in diagnosing “excited delirium” to the creation of a countrywide “excited delirium” database?

“Excited delirium” (overheating and wild behaviour) is a blind alley, not a recognized medical condition. It is a convenient way to avoid tough scrutiny of police practices that may contribute to death.

Mr. Braidwood, a retired appeal court judge, spent two years and oversaw two inquiries, one on the overall safety concerns around the taser, and one on Mr. Dziekanski’s brutal death after being tasered five times by the RCMP at the Vancouver International Airport. He spoke to experts in emergency medicine, cardiology, electrophysiology, pathology, epidemiology, psychology and psychiatry. Judge Lamoureux did not refer in her seven-page ruling to Mr. Braidwood’s 1,000-plus page reports.

Mr. Braidwood concluded that “excited delirium” is not a medical condition. By contrast, delirium is a recognized cognitive and brain dysfunction that is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. This is not just semantics; it points to the real problem – dealing with a sick individual without killing him. “It is not helpful to blame resulting deaths on ‘excited delirium,’ since this conveniently avoids having to examine the underlying medical condition or conditions that actually caused death, let alone examining whether use of the conducted energy weapon and/or subsequent measures to physically restrain the subject contributed to those causes of death.”

Mr. Bowe was on cocaine and acting wildly in a dark house. The tasering and heavy-handed restraint by Calgary police may or may not have been justified – though the judge should have questioned “kicks to the side of Mr. Bowe’s body.” Any policy built around “excited delirium” would be an irrational response to such a death. Judges and policy-makers should read Mr. Braidwood’s reports.

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