Governor seeks to vacate order allowing shock treatment

Following on the heals of a renewed push from the federal government and disability advocates to end the use of “skin-shock therapy” at the Judge Rotenburg Center, the administration of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick filed a legal motion February 14 to vacate a legal settlement that allows the controversial practice to continue.

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The center, an education center for children with severe emotional disabilities, is the only facility nationwide known to use skin-shock therapy.

As part of the therapy, students are strapped with backpacks equipped with a GED, a remote control device that allows school authorities to regularly zap the students’ skin on their legs, arms or stomach to discourage bad behavior.

In 1987, the center entered a legal settlement with the state of Massachusetts in response to a challenge to a  state decision to suspend its license, according to a Boston Globe article. The settlement allowed the center to continue to use “aversive therapy” techniques, which later expanded to include legal authorities.

The center, then called the Behavior Research ­Institute, was renamed in honor of the judge who approved the settlement.

The state now argues that there is an “overwhelming professional consensus” that the shocks are inappropriate. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called the treatment torture.

“Our goal is to ensure that all individuals in the Commonwealth receive safe treatments, in line with best practices in the medical field,” Alec Loftus, a spokesman for the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, told the Boston Globe. “We are optimistic that the court will rule in our favor.”

In December, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services  announced it had cut off funds to the facility, according to the Boston Globe article.

That month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also sent a letter to the center, warning it that it was operating outside the law since the devices used to administer the shocks have not received FDA approval.

“The GED devices are used to intentionally inflict pain and suffering on the residents of the Judge Rotenberg Center…Treatment aimed at compliance rather than facilitating the development of functional skills should not be approved as acceptable or appropriate,” the Autistic Self Advocacy Network wrote in a letter to the FDA  on February 12, signed by dozens of disability advocacy groups.

The letter continued by stating “The FDA has the potential to play a unique role in eliminating such painful compliance-based treatment by denying approved or cleared status for any GED devices and ordering the Judge Rotenberg Center to stop their usage.”