US district court ruling allows electric shock “therapy” of intellectually disabled students | #students | #parents | #parenting | #parenting | #kids

The Washington D.C. District Court of Appeals has struck down a ban on the deliberate and painful shocking of autistic and mentally-impaired children with electrical stimulation devices.

At issue is the signature policy of the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts. The JRC has, since 1985, used a “graduated electronic decelerator” (GED) on students ages three to adult, supposedly as a form of “aversion therapy.” For decades, the center has been the target of lawsuits, petitions and exposés by traumatized youth and families. In 2013, the United Nations condemned its practices as a violation of the UN Convention against Torture.

After the case remained in limbo for several years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally banned the use of GEDs in March 2020. The ruling cited “an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury that cannot be corrected or eliminated through new or updated device labeling.”

The agency reviewed the clinical and scientific literature on self-injurious and aggressive behavior, the purported rationale for delivering the shocks, while interviewing experts in the field. It concluded that the shocks could only temporarily halt such problems and, on balance, were harmful. They found that GEDs create a significant risk of “worsening of underlying symptoms, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, pain, burns and tissue damage.”

Nonetheless, the July 6 appeals court decision found that the FDA could not ban the device, claiming such a prohibition constituted “interference with the practice of medicine.” In fact, the Judge Rotenberg Center is technically a school, licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, serving those with intellectual disabilities or behavioral, emotional or psychiatric problems. Many clients are referred from the juvenile justice system and have a history of abuse or abandonment.

Judge Rotenberg Center’s website (screenshot)

The shocking devices were developed by the center’s founder Matthew Israel in 1985 after his policy of physical abuse (spanking, squeezing and pinching) came under legal attack. Reportedly, shocks are delivered to between 20 and 50 percent of enrolled students.

The purpose of the device is to inflict pain. Students are required to wear a backpack containing the shocking device with electrodes affixed to their skin at all times. Staff can shock them with remote-control activators at any time.

Andre McCollins was shocked 31 times for failing to remove his jacket, “tensing up” his body, and screaming with pain, according to New York Magazine. The episode left McCollins catatonic, barely able to eat or walk for days. His mother sued JRC, forcing the release of a horrific video of her son strapped in four-point restraints with a helmet on his head while being repeatedly shocked. The session went on for hours while staff rotated electrodes around his body to lessen burn marks. The video showed the child screaming for help and begging employees to stop. His mother says he has never fully recovered.

Screenshot from the hours-long shocking of Andre McCollins, 18 years old.

Jen Msumba, a former student, called her time at JRC “mind and body torture.” She said electrodes were applied under students’ fingers or the bottom of their feet to increase the pain. She recounted being shocked for “waving her hands, body movements, talking too loud, not answering a staff member in less than 5 seconds, or pretty much anything they deem annoying.”

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