Powerful video of a Judge Rotenberg Center student shocked and restrained for hours continues to reverberate on Beacon Hill and beyond, with opponents of the treatment stepping up efforts to ban the shocks as the United Nations expert on torture says he's investigating the school.
The video has helped fuel a renewed lobbying effort to ban the long-controversial shocks. Several opponents of the shocks, including the mother of the student in that video, visited lawmakers' offices today to press for the ban.
"We're going to continue to let our children be tortured? I just hope that they come to their senses are realize this is wrong and it's been wrong for the last 27 years," said Cheryl McCollins, mother of former Rotenberg Center student Andre McCollins.
Opponents want the full Legislature to adopt a Senate budget amendment to ban the shocks. The measure is being considered by a joint House-Senate conference committee that is hashing out the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Word on whether it's included in the Legislature's final budget could come any day.
The Judge Rotenberg Center is the only place in the country to use this kind of shock treatment, and now scrutiny is also coming from Juan Mendez, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Torture.
"It raises a very serious concern," Mendez told FOX Undercover. "The passage of electricity through anybody's body is clearly associated with pain and suffering. Now it depends on the level and time and whether there's any rationale for it."
Mendez knows well the subject of torture. He was a human rights lawyer during Argentina's dirty way, and was himself tortured with electricity.
Mendez is investigating after receiving a complaint from Disability Rights International, which examines treatment of the disabled around the world, including a 2010 report highly critical of the Judge Rotenberg Center.
"I imagine this isn't the typical type of complaint regarding torture that you receive?" FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked Mendez.
"No it isn't," Mendez replied. "Most cases I receive are about torture in the course of interrogations, for example, or for reasons of punishment. But the definition I have to operate under is very clear: that any pain and suffering inflicted on a person with the participation or complicity of state authorities might give rise to a concern under the (United Nations) convention against torture and therefore to a concern under my mandate."
Mendez has seen the video of Andre McCollins' treatment, which first came to light in April during his civil trial. It shows him being shocked for refusing to take off his coat. He's then restrained, face-down, a helmet on his head, and shocked 31 times over seven hours for tensing his body and yelling.
It was all part of his court-approved treatment plan, but the ordeal left McCollins in a catatonic state and hospitalized for five-and-a-half weeks.
Mendez has asked the US government to report back to him within two months before reporting his own findings to the United Nations.
Meanwhile, the Judge Rotenberg Center has also come to the attention of a US Senate committee which is going to hold a hearing next week on alternatives to aversive therapies like the shocks. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee's hearing, titled "Beyond Seclusion and Restraint," is going to focus on positive therapies with the hope of eliminating the perceived need for aversive therapies.
A spokeswoman for the Judge Rotenberg Center released a statement from the school's parent association which did not address the UN investigation but called the lobbying effort at the State House a "political stunt."
"We are outraged that these people would use our vulnerable children as pawns. The right to choose the appropriate and safe treatment for our children, when nothing else has worked, must remain an option for the small percentage of children for whom this is a matter of life or death," the parents' statement said in part.