Ban of Electric Shock Devices on Developmentally Disabled Kids Overturned by Washington, D.C Judge

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The Judge Rotenberg Center is the only facility in the State of Massachusetts and the United States as whole that makes use of the aversive therapies. This has remained a source of controversy between parents who feel that the devices are harmful to their children and those who see it as a last resort. The Judge Rotenberg Center weans its students off their medication by gradually replacing it with Electric Shock Devices.

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John Rotenberg Center

This is however done with the approval of the court in each individual case. These devices are made by the facility and were once approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Over the years, a series of complaints have been made against the facility. In 2007, a boy was strapped to the gurney and shocked for over three hours. It was later discovered that the order to do so was a prank call from a phone outside the facility.

In 2012, during a court case against JRC, a video was released where a student was restrained to a board and shocked multiple times. Even teachers who work at the facility have questioned how they had to use the Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED) even when the students were not aggressive. In 2013, United Nations released a report saying that the use of such devices was contrary to the United Nations Convention against torture.

Several Disability groups began to petition and protest against the use of these devices on vulnerable children. In March 2020, the Food and Administrative agency announced the ban of these devices making it the third such outright ban of medical devices, the other two being fake hair implants and powdered gloves. The ban was approved based on the statute which gives the FDA the authority to pull dangerous devices from the market.

Despite the ban, parents who are of the opinion that these devices are life saving put out a statement. In this statement, they interpreted the actions of the FDA as simply saying the lives of their children do not matter. The Judge Rotenberg Center also accused the Food and Drug Administration of reaching their decision based on politics and refusing to listen to the testimony of parents whose children are on aversive therapy.

They also began to petition to have the decision of the FDA overturned. In April 2021, the case to overturn the decision of the Food and Drug Administration was brought forward. The school was represented by Michael Flammia of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, while the parents were represented by Max Stern of Todd & Weld at the District Columbia court of appeal.

DC Court of AppealDreamtime

It was argued in their defense that the shock therapy is a last resort when other forms of treatments have failed and that the children deserve to live a life free of fear of self-injury caused by aggressive behavior. In a 2-1 majority, the case was ruled in the favor of Judge Rotenberg Center. Judge Sentelle, writing on behalf of the majority, said that the Congress explicitly prohibited the Food and Drug Administration from the regulation of the practice of medicine.

“The FDA has no authority to choose what medical devices a practitioner should prescribe or administer or for which conditions," the judge wrote. Dissenting with this view, Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan, who had the minority vote argued that since the FDA had the authority to outrightly ban the device, he did not see the need for the middle ground which the Congress gave the agency.

The school and the association of parents have expressed their pleasure with the ruling of the case. The Food and Drug Administration has however not released a statement about their opinion on the ruling.

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