Disability Organizations Call Upon FDA to Respond to Court Decision Permitting Use of Electric Shock

July 19, 2018
Disability Organizations Call Upon FDA to Respond to Court Decision Permitting Use of Electric Shock

For Immediate Release

Contact:  David Card
202.408.9514 x122
[email protected]

Washington, DC – In response to a recent decision by a Massachusetts Probate Court judge to allow the continued use of electric shocks on students with disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JRC), National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) Executive Director Curt Decker issued the following statement, joined by the Disability Law Center, the Boston Center for Independent Living, and the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee (MHLAC).

“We are profoundly disturbed by the court’s ruling and call upon the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to appeal this decision. We also urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue its long-awaited final rule ending this horrific practice right now.

“NDRN fully agrees with the conclusion of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in its proposed rule to ban the devices that administer these shocks at JRC. Such electric stimulus devices (ESDs) are ineffective as treatment and represent an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury when used to attempt to reduce or cease self-injurious or aggressive behavior. (ESDs should not be confused with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), an unrelated and voluntary treatment for conditions such as major depression.) More than twenty-five years ago, leading researchers in the disability community stated “[t]he routine use of procedures that deliver pain (shock, pinching, slaps), procedures that result in harm (bruises, cuts, broken bones), and procedures that are disrespectful or dehumanizing (facial sprays, shaving cream in mouth, foul smells) are no longer acceptable.” Such research was correct then, and it is even more correct today.

“The FDA further determined, in preparing its proposed rule, that the state of the art of current practice in responding to self-injurious and aggressive behavior rejects the use of ESDs and favors the use of positive behavioral interventions and support. Other schools have found ways to work with individuals with the most significant behaviors without the use of aversive conditioning devices that use electric stimuli. One such example comes from the Centennial School in Pennsylvania. Centennial is an approved private alternative school for students with autism and the most significant emotional disabilities and has found a way to serve these students without reliance on aversive behavioral interventions (including ESDs), restraints, or seclusion.

“In the proposed ban, the FDA found that individuals subjected to ESDs experience varying degrees of pain, as well as the potential for burns, ulcers, anxiety, panic, trauma, depression, and undesirable self-restraint. Most importantly, the nature of the students’ disabilities hinders their ability to assess the adverse effects of the use of ESDs. The FDA further noted the problems of the misfiring of the devices, and that trauma may occur when residents watch other residents being shocked by an ESD.

It is long past the time to terminate this cruel practice.”

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the non-profit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.

The Disability Law Center (DLC) is a private, non-profit organization serving as the Protection and Advocacy system for Massachusetts, charged with protecting residents with disabilities from abuse and neglect.  DLC provides legal advocacy to promote the fundamental rights of all people with disabilities to participate fully and equally in the social and economic life of Massachusetts.

The Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has provided services to people with disabilities since 1974, when it became the second independent living center in the country. The BCIL is a frontline civil rights organization led by people with disabilities that advocates to eliminate discrimination, isolation and segregation by providing advocacy, information and referral, peer support, skills training, PCA services, and transitional services in order to enhance the independence of people with disabilities.

The Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee (MHLAC) is an independent state agency charged with protecting the legal rights of people with psychiatric disabilities and behavioral disorders in Massachusetts.  MHLAC works to ensure that people with disabilities are able to access appropriate services so that they may live full and independent lives.