(more on the laser eye surgery debate):
PUBLICATION The Hamilton Spectator
DATE Monday December 18, 2000
BYLINE Louise Elliott
Mounties warned against laser eye surgery
The RCMP is advising its officers not to get laser eye surgery because several studies link the operation to reduced night vision. Meanwhile, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) union has notified its members of a discount offer on the controversial procedure.
The RCMP‘s occupational health division has instructed its medical offices to advise those considering the procedure not to get it, after a routine review of research data, said Dr. Jean-Pierre Legault, health service officer for Ontario and the former chief of occupational health.
"We know there is a problem," said Legault, adding the force has yet to determine how severe that problem is. "Our recommendation right now is that our members not have (the surgery) unless absolutely required to do so."
Currently, RCMP officers are not barred from getting the procedure, he said.
But those considering the operation in order to maintain the vision standard required for front-line work will be warned of the possible complications after studies conducted in Canada, Britain and Germany found between 30 and 70 per cent of patients experienced a significant loss of night vision, Legault said.
On Dec. 1, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration posted an Internet warning about the risks of the surgery, including permanent vision loss and reduced night vision.
The industry has disputed the studies and maintains the procedure is safe, pointing to other research that has found the surgery has a high success rate.
Despite the recent debate over the surgery‘s safety, the Ontario Provincial Police union this month distributed a discount offer on the procedure to its members, The Canadian Press has learned.
In a move now under fire from consumer advocates and some members, the Ontario Provincial Police Association notified more than 5,000 Ontario officers and retirees about a deal on laser-eye surgery offered by TLC Laser Centres Inc. of Mississauga.
The offer, which was disseminated via the police force‘s e-mail system, states that "for the month of January (TLC) is offering all police officers a discount of approximately 40 per cent off the cost of corrective laser eye surgery."
Debbie McKenna, executive officer for the association, said the union is not advocating the surgery by publicizing TLC‘s offer, which extends to all police officers in Canada.
"We are not endorsing it one way or another," she said. "It‘s a personal choice -- it‘s up to the individual as to whether or not they want to go ahead with it."
But Wendy Armstrong, a public interest researcher who has studied laser eye surgery for 10 years, and former head of the Alberta Consumers Association, said that in forwarding the offer, the union may be putting police and public safety at risk.
"They‘re making a leap of faith about the safety and value of this product," she said. "It‘s disconcerting to think this may have implications for public safety and the careers of certain individuals in the force."
The decision to forward the offer may also make the association liable for bad surgical outcomes, and their effect on policing, she added.
Armstrong also criticized TLC for issuing a time-pressured offer to police officers, saying the marketing tactic contradicts the recent industry acknowledgements that the safety of the surgery is dependent on the individual, and carries some risk.
One retired member of the force who received the offer also said the union could be putting officers -- and the citizens they‘re policing -- at risk.
"You‘ve got to be able to see, and they‘re putting that in jeopardy," said the former staff sergeant, who did not want his name used. "In high-speed driving, you are going to be chasing people, and some situations are life and death. If you don‘t have vision, you shouldn‘t be on the road."
Superintendent Rick Kotwa of OPP corporate communications said he knew nothing about the union passing along the TLC offer, and said his office would look into it.
Carroll Robinson, manager of the constable selection unit at Ontario‘s Ministry of the Solicitor-General, said provincial police are not forbidden from getting the operation, nor are they tested for night vision afterwards.
But officers are asked to report any problems with glare, and are required to provide a letter from their doctor stating their vision has proved stable during two tests taken at different times of the day, he said.
"We do not believe we are at risk," Robinson said, adding the current policy "is reasonably protecting us, even if night vision really is a problem."
Forces in Britain are now advising officers against the procedure, said Valentine Murombe-Chivero of the Association of Chief Police Officers in London.
"It is a problem," he said. "People are expected to see their senior officer and to make sure the surgery is absolutely necessary, and if it is, they would have to be examined (post-operatively)," he said, adding officers who have had the surgery are sometimes barred from high-speed chases.