Two years after a federal advisory panel met to discuss the Judge Rotenberg Center’s use of electrical stimulation devices in behaviour modification protocols, the Food and Drug Administration has announced its intent to ban the devices. This is something a lot of people (including a past employee of the Judge Rotenberg Center) have been waiting a long time for.
Content Warning: Torture, Abuse, Aversive Skin Shocks
Image Description: “JRC” in navy letters behind a red circle with a slash through it. Underneath. in black letters: “STOP The Torture! Close It!”
The Judge Rotenberg Center is a facility for children in adults with developmental disabilities. It is located in Canton, Massachusetts, and has been open since 1971. It employs a number of controversial behaviour modification practices, but the most controversial by far is the use of aversive skin shocks delivered via devices called Gradual Electronic Decelerators in response to self-injurious or aggressive behaviour. Judge Rotenberg Center is the only place in the United States that still uses aversive skin shocks to condition behaviour.
Judge Rotenberg stands by its use of aversive skin shocks as an alternative for individuals for whom no other treatment is working, and insists that individuals and their families depend on it. But significant questions surround the use of the practice:
- Judge Rotenberg Centre has said that the shock “feels like a hard pinch but is otherwise harmless and has no side effects”, but students have likened the shocks to torture and say that they now suffer flashbacks because of them.
- The shocks are supposed to be delivered for extreme behaviours, but students have talked about receiving them for reasons as arbitrary as “saying no or messing around with a boy.” There’s footage on YouTube of student Andre McCollins refusing to take off his coat and receiving shocks. He received 31 shocks in 7 hours that day. There are links to network news stories about McCollins on Lydia Brown’s blog – they show the video footage, which is graphic and may be triggering.
- The Gradual Electronic Decelerators are not “street legal”. Despite a warning from the FDA in 2012 that illegal modifications to the machines were causing them to deliver shocks that were too strong, Judge Rotenberg Center kept the machines set to deliver shocks up to 3 times the legal strength they were legally allowed to.
The meeting of the federal advisory committee about the Gradual Electronic Decelerators and the aversive skin shocks was a chance for both those for and against their use to make a thorough case. The meeting was in front of the FDA, in order to help them make a decision about the GEDs and the use of aversive skin shocks.
Judge Rotenberg Center – If I Had My Way…
Even if you haven’t read my past writing about the Judge Rotenberg Center, if you know anything about me I think you can likely predict where I come down on the use of electric shock as behaviour modification on anyone. I’m not an expert on conditioning, but I know enough about it…and behaviour modification programs…and basic human rights and ethical treatment, for God’s sake…that I know that even when there seems like no other alternative, delivering a skin shock to get a person to stop an “undesired” behaviour is totally unacceptable from an institution that claims to be providing support services.
Totally fucking unacceptable and something that we should not be condoning implicitly or explicitly. I’d love to see the Judge Rotenberg Centre closed down tomorrow, and think it should have been closed down years ago.
Seeing them get their electric toys taken away?
It’s a damn good first step.
The FDA Wants to Hear From You
On April 25, 2016, the FDA issued its Proposal To Ban Electrical Stimulation Devices Used To Treat Self-Injurious or Aggressive Behavior. The Summary states:
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or we) is proposing to ban electrical stimulation devices used to treat aggressive or self-injurious behavior. FDA has determined that these devices present an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury that cannot be corrected or eliminated by labeling. FDA is proposing to include in this ban both new devices and devices already in distribution and use.
This is not an official ruling. It’s a proposed rule that outlines why the FDA wants to bans electrical shock devices, and it’s very thorough – definitely worth reading, especially since the FDA is inviting public comment on the proposed ruling until May 25, 2016, with a specific request for comment on their proposed effective date. Comment can be provided in a variety of formats, and information on how to submit comment is listed on the Proposal.
If you have an opinion on this issue, now is the time to make it known! Remember, the Judge Rotenberg Center is presently the only entity affected by this ruling – when the electrical stimulation devices are banned, the facility cannot use them anymore. Ever.
Speak your mind to the FDA, and let’s get this chapter closed.