FOX UNDERCOVER (MyFoxBoston.com) -- The US Food and Drug Administration is setting its sights on the device that delivers painful electric shocks to students at the Judge Rotenberg Center, charging an advisory panel to weigh whether to ban them for good.“FDA is concerned that they present a substantial and unreasonable risk of illness or injury,” the agency wrote in an executive summary for the hearing.
The Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton is the only place in the country to use the shocking devices, which it calls Graduated Electronic Decelerators, or GEDs. The Rotenberg Center says the devices work when other treatments have failed to stop its most difficult clients from engaging in severely destructive behavior.
The shock therapy has been controversial for decades, and scrutiny was renewed in 2012, when video of former student Andre McCollins being restrained and shocked for hours was publicized. McCollins’ mother was suing the Judge Rotenberg Center over the events that day, which left McCollins hospitalized. The case settled out of court while the jury was deliberating.
Several comments made to the FDA advisory panel have urged members to review the video, which first aired on FOX 25.
Opponents to the shocks also say there are now other, more effective and humane methods of treating the extreme behaviors that Rotenberg Center students have had.
Jean Flatley McGuire, a former assistant secretary for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services who now is a professor at Northeastern University, wrote to the FDA urging a ban on the shock devices.
“Do you think these shocks are inhumane?” FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked her.
“What I think is that we have plenty of alternatives for managing behaviors that are the biggest part of their focus, which is seriously injurious behaviors, behaviors where are person can really harm themselves or potentially someone else,” McGuire replied.
McGuire said she was sorry she wasn’t able to “facilitate a change in direction” at the Rotenberg Center when she was a top health advisor for the state.
“I look back at my time in the state, and while I exercised my responsibilities to oversee and maintain as safe an environment as possible and meet our contractual obligations, my disappointment is I got to understand the lack of evidence for this device,” she said.
“When you look across the country and say no one else is doing this. Common sense must say there's got to be a problem with it,” she added.
Critics include the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who investigated in 2012 and found the harsh treatment method violated the UN Convention Against Torture.
The Judge Rotenberg Center disagrees, saying in a statement that its treatment has been proven to be effective, saying in a statement: "Without the treatment program at JRC these children and adults would be condemned to lives of pain by self-inflicted mutilation, psychotropic drugs, isolation, restraint and institutionalization - or even death. JRC is committed to serving these patients, when no other facility can or will…”
Massachusetts has already passed a ban on using them on new students, though that ban is the subject of ongoing litigation.
One of the questions for this FDA advisory panel to consider, is whether to recommend stopping all shocks, and if so what should replace them.