Police, Seizures, and Fear

There’ve been several stories in the news over the last while about two Canadian men arrested and subsequently charged for behaviour related to epileptic seizures, both in Edmonton. Read this article (and this one, and this one) for more.

Marcel Allen has a special perspective on these cases since he, too, has epilepsy. On three occasions, he regained consciousness after seizures to find that he was handcuffed; on another, he was Tasered because of seizure-caused actions. In front of his family, no less.

He is a police constable working and living in Ottawa.

As this piece from the CBC explains, Allen feels that the “two high-profile arrests in Edmonton are further proof seizure training should be mandatory for police officers in Canada.” He has used his experiences as motivation to create training materials for the police force.

I’m lucky that I’ve never been violent during a seizure or while postictal. I’m fortunate that I’ve never done anything while not the master of my own brain that would cause the police to be tempted to restrain or arrest me (that I know of, anyway). But many people with epilepsy are in a different position than I am. I already live with a lot of epilepsy-related fear—of the the seizures themselves, of concussions, of embarrassing myself in public (or in private, for that matter), of stigma affecting how others perceive me, and of the future, for example. It’s hard for me to imagine having the extra layer of worrying that I might face criminal charges due to the thing I’m fighting so hard, with the aid of a team of medical professionals, to eliminate.

I’m glad that Marcel Allen has created what seems like a very good resource for police officers, and I hope that it’s widely adopted. I’m alarmed, however, that training members of the police force to recognize seizures isn’t already routine procedure. Major institutional change is necessary if people with epilepsy—and people with other conditions that may cause them to behave erratically for reasons out of their control—are treated with respect and given medical attention rather than being beaten, Tasered, arrested, and charged.

While reading this article, I stopped at this:

“‘It’s unfortunate that this individual happened to have that seizure at that time and caused those injuries to our members,’ Bob Walsh, vice president of the Edmonton Police Association, said Tuesday.

‘But he’s got to be held accountable as well.'”

Accountable for something that he wasn’t conscious/was neurologically altered for?

While I don’t know what it’s like to be arrested during or after a seizure, I can unequivocally state the following: having a neurological disorder is punishment enough.

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