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Senators demand ban on use of shock devices on people with disabilities

A group of Democratic senators sent a letter to the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week demanding the immediate ban on the use of devices that deliver electric shocks on children and adults with disabilities, which are only still used by a single Massachusetts school. 

The Judge Rotenberg Center, a day and residential school that serves children and adults with disabilities in Canton, is the only school in the country that uses the devices to shock students, according to WCVB.

In 2016, the FDA proposed banning the devices, employed as a means of stopping self-harming or aggressive behaviors, arguing they “present an unreasonable and substantial risk to public health.”

“Evidence indicates a number of significant psychological and physical risks are associated with the use of these devices, including depression, anxiety, worsening of self-injury behaviors and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, pain, burns, tissue damage and errant shocks from a device malfunction,” the FDA wrote. “In addition, many people who are exposed to these devices have intellectual or developmental disabilities that make it difficult to communicate their pain or consent.”

In 2018, the agency announced its plan to issue a final ban on the devices by the end of 2019.

“The FDA missed its deadline, allowing the continued use of electric shock on people with disabilities, including children,” Washington’s Sen. Patty Murray wrote in a letter to the agency with seven of her colleagues on Monday. “This is unacceptable.”

In addition to Murray — who serves a ranking member on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions — Democratic senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Doug Jones of Alabama, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Tina Smith of Minnesota, and Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont signed the letter. 

In response to the renewed push for a ban on the devices, Marie Washington, president of the Judge Rotenberg Center’s family association, released the following statement: 

“It is unfortunate that individuals with little to no knowledge of our children or the issues they face are putting them in danger of losing the only safe and effective treatment available to them. This treatment is only used with court approval after all else has failed our children. We will continue to fight for their lives and the quality of life the treatment brings them, allowing them to live in the community, be educated, spend time with family and to live their best life as opposed to their previous lives of ineffective treatment, isolation and restraint. Despite what is put into the public eye by those who speak out against the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center — without ever having been there or knowing our children — the only alternative truly offered to our children is to drug them into being incapacitated. If you think we haven’t explored and tried alternatives available to us, you underestimate our intelligence and the love we have for our kids.” 

A spokeswoman for the FDA said the agency received the Monday letter and will “respond directly to the Senators.”

“Issuing this final rule remains a priority for FDA,” Kristen Pluchino wrote in an email.


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