A federal appeals court overturned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ban on the use of controversial electric shock devices used at the Judge Rotenberg Center.
The devices are specifically used to “correct aggressive or self-injurious behavior in adults and children,” the residential school said. The devices are also used at a single facility in the country, in Canton.
In March 2020, the FDA banned electrical stimulation devices (ESDs) used for self-injurious or aggressive behavior.
But on July 6, the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit found that the ban exceeded the authority of the FDA because it was a regulation of the practice of medicine.
“In this case, the law says that the FDA must not interpret its law in such a way as to interfere with the practice of medicine,” the advisory read. “This means that the FDA may not pass the regulations in question before us.”
The school said “the decision was a victory for the Judge Rotenberg Education Center and a group of parents and guardians of its students, who had challenged the rule.”
There are over 300 people who frequent and live at the JRC, of which around 55 people are approved for the devices.
“The court ruling means that the JRC can continue to provide this court-approved and controlled Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED) treatment as part of its holistic treatment plan for deep aggressive or self-injurious behavior,” said the JRC in a press release. “GED is a treatment of last resort, and its recipients risk serious bodily harm, even death, without it. With treatment, these residents can continue to participate in meaningful experiences, enjoy visits with their families, and most importantly, live safe and free from self-injurious and aggressive behaviors.
The JRC Parents’ Association said it was grateful for the move, adding that it was a “life-saving treatment of last resort.”
“There is no other treatment for our loved ones, and we will not stand idly by because they are mechanically or chemically restrained,” the association said in a statement. “The JRC Parents’ Association looks forward to enabling loved ones to receive this life-saving treatment without further government interference. “
Lawyer Max Stern, who represents parents and guardians of the JRC, also said “no treatment has worked otherwise.”
“One of our clients is a woman who has banged her head against the wall so many times that her retinas have come loose,” he told MassLive. “It was only after visiting several other institutions, neither at the JRC and receiving this treatment, that she was able to control this behavior so that she could undergo surgery to allow her to see her again.”
Mike Flammia, an attorney for the center, said he was happy the decision was left to doctors, not the federal government.
The devices, however, have had a history of controversy.
The facility introduced these types of devices in the 1980s, Mother Jones reported. Since then, many advocates have spent decades denouncing their use. The facility has had numerous news articles written about their practices, including stories from MassLive, a number of court cases, and a 2012 viral video that shows a student screaming and asking them to stop.
“It hurts. It hurts,” the student can be heard saying in a panicked voice. “Stop. Stop for real.
Before the ban, the JRC reported to the FDA that it shocked students less than once a week on average.
The FDA has ruled that the devices cause a number of significant psychological and physical risks, “including worsening underlying symptoms, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, pain, burns. and tissue damage “.
Since the ruling, disability justice attorney Shain Neumeier wanted Massachusetts to work with patients and their caregivers to find community options outside of the JRC.
“They should find places in the community where they can live independently,” Neumeier said. “Where they can overcome that and receive service with their family and friends. “
Defenders have also previously told MassLive they want more than the ban, especially from the state.
“A ban will do nothing to undo the decades of torture those confined to the JRC have had to endure so far,” said Lydia Brown, director of policy, advocacy and external affairs for Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network. “And Massachusetts has a responsibility to fix the survivors. “