House approves ban on electric shock devices for people with intellectual disabilities

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A bill that would ban the use of electrical stimulation devices to combat self-harming or aggressive behavior is now headed to the US Senate. (Thought)

Congress is set to ban devices used to administer electric shocks to people with intellectual disabilities in an attempt to modify their behavior, a practice that supporters have long decried as torture.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 392 to 28 last week to approve the Food and Drug Amendments Act, a sweeping bill reauthorizing Food and Drug Administration programs. Inside the legislation is a provision that would end the use of so-called electrical stimulation devices, which send shocks through electrodes attached to the skin in order to condition people not to not engage in self-injurious or aggressive behavior.

The devices are thought to be used at only one facility in the United States – the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Mass., which serves children and adults with developmental disabilities as well as those with behavioral and emotional problems .

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Disability advocates have worked for years to ban the practice. And in 2020, the FDA finalized a ban on the devices after determining they posed an “unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury.” The agency cited evidence of psychological and physical risks, including burns, tissue damage, worsening of underlying symptoms, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

But the Rotenberg Center sued, and last summer the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that the FDA exceeded its authority and struck down the regulations.

The legislation is now heading to the Senate where advocates say they hope the provision banning electrical stimulation devices will be included.

“Occasional electric shocks for behavior modification purposes are inhumane and ineffective and have been condemned by the United Nations as torture,” said Julia Bascom, executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “We hope the Senate will act quickly – people subject to these shocks have been waiting too long.”

Proponents of the Rotenberg Center, however, aren’t backing down on what they say is a last resort for people with severe behaviors that haven’t responded to other treatments.

“Parents and guardians of Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JRC) clients will continue to fight to preserve lifesaving electrical stimulation device (ESD) treatment for our loved ones, for whom all other treatment options have been tried and have failed,” the parent association of the Judge Rotenberg Education Center said in a statement to Disability Scoop. self-harm and the recurrence of other serious behaviors that will result in irreparable harm, permanent disfigurement or even the death of our children.

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