New proposal to end controversial skin shock treatment

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News from Massachussetts

The Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services has proposed new regulations aiming to ban skin shock therapy, a controversial method of behavior control for children and adults with developmental disabilities used at the state’s Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, a small town in the Boston suburbs.

The proposed regulations, quietly filed on June 23, come amid heighted attention to the facility. On May 25, the center’s long-time director, Matthew Israel, was ordered to leave the center as part of a court settlement after two teenagers were wrongfully administered the treatment.

In May, the state Senate unanimously passed a measure to end the practice. However, the measure was held up in the state House of Representatives during last minute budget discussions by Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, who credits the practice with saving his nephew’s life, according to an article in the Milford Daily News.

For all future patients of the facility, or any other medical facility in the state, the proposal would ban treatments that cause “physical pain – such as “spanking, slapping, hitting or contingent skin shock,” according to the article.

The regulations would not apply to individuals with existing court-ordred treatment plans prior to September 1, 2011.

As part of the therapy, residents at the facility 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. The center’s practices, which are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, have been called torture by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.