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Appeals court axes FDA ban of electric shock on the disabled

July 8, 2021 GMT

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., overturned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s federal ban on the use of electric shock devices on people with mental disabilities by a Massachusetts residential school.

The judges’ 2-1 decision will allow the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center to continue using shock devices on its residents. The school is the only institution in the U.S. that still uses shock therapy as a way to modify residents’ behavior, the Boston Globe reported.

The judges’ majority opinion stated that the FDA cannot ban the use of electric shock on intellectually disabled people because federal law restricts the FDA from interfering with the practice of medicine, because regulating medicine is the state’s prerogative.

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Michael Flammia, the center’s attorney, said that Rotenberg leaders are content with the ruling, which will allow its workers to continue giving electric shocks to a portion of their residents to correct potentially aggressive or self-harming behavior when other measures have failed.

Critics and disability advocates said that the shocks are forms of torture. Opposition to the appeal cited court records that have reported people being shocked by accident or for minor transgressions like swearing, running away or not following the rules. The Rotenberg Center denied the allegations, the newspaper said.

The center said it only uses shocks with approval from a patient’s family and a local judge. Flammia said that the shock treatment is necessary to prevent the patients from violent self-injury.

But Shain Neumeier, an attorney who has represented former center residents, said the shocks are given without consent and the families are not informed about the conditions of the shocks people receive and the lack of effectiveness.

The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center Parents Association said in a statement that they supported the judges’ appeal.

“We have and will continue to fight to keep our loved ones safe and alive and to retain access to this life saving treatment of last resort,” the association said.