In The Politics of Autism, I write:
For those who remain at larger residential institutions, the horrors of yesteryear have generally ended. In 2012, however, a ten-year-old video surfaced, showing disturbing image of an electric shock device at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton Massachusetts. Staffers tied one student to a restraint board and shocked him 31 times over seven hours, ignoring his screamed pleas to stop. The Rotenberg Center is the only one in the nation that admits to using electric shocks on people with developmental disabilities, including autism. Center officials said that they had stopped using restraint boards but insisted that shocks were necessary in extreme cases to prevent officials insist the shock program is a last resort that prevents people with severe disorders from hurting themselves or others.
Medical and disability leaders have worked for years to ban the use of electric shock devices for behavior modification on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The brutal treatment is widely recognized as cruel, harmful, and ineffective. Yet the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), an institution in Massachusetts for people with IDD, still subjects its residents to this extreme practice. We prevailed in 2020, but the Food and Drug Administration’s ban of the use of the device was overturned on a technicality just one year later. The Arc and our advocates have been asking Congress to put an end to this barbaric treatment in the 2022 FDA User Fee Package – and they have failed to stand up for the basic human rights of people with disabilities.
Today, Senate and House leaders announced they are moving a bill forward to fund the FDA for another five years without the ban. Initial versions of this bill that passed the House and the Senate HELP Committee with bipartisan support included the ban on the shock device. The Arc of the United States, its 600+ chapter network, and people with IDD and their families are devastated by this omission.
“This practice is torturous and a violation of basic civil rights. We will continue fighting for justice for JRC’s residents by working with our partners to get a ban into the end-of-year spending package and ensuring every single representative prioritizes the health and safety of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.