The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) is a controversial treatment facility right here in my home state of Massachusetts that uses a form of electroshock therapy in order to “treat” developmentally disabled teens and adults in its care. It’s one-of-a-kind in the nation for its aggressive use of shock therapy — ala B.F. skinner and rats from the 1960s.
Last month, the Center received a warning letter about the continued unauthorized use of “adulterated” shock devices, called GEDs (for Graduated Electronic Decelerators). The Center is the only treatment facility in the country that uses these self-manufactured devices.
They were approved for their intended use by the FDA in 1995. However, since at least 2008, the Center has been using revised versions of these devices — GED3A and GED4 — that deliver higher electrical charges. The FDA has told the Center — repeatedly — that these new versions need to undergo additional testing to demonstrate their safety (especially a concern, given the higher voltage levels the devices reportedly deliver).
And yet, for over four years, the Center has simply ignored the FDA and continues to use the devices — against the FDA’s rules and directives.
Meanwhile, patients in the Center’s care continue — every day — to be shocked against their will. Here is one patient’s story.
According to Fox News, the Center is still “being investigated by the Justice Department and has drawn the scrutiny of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
“And Massachusetts State Sen. Brian A. Joyce, D-Milton, a long-time critic of JRC, has written to the FDA asking them to ban the shocks all together. He is also planning on again filing legislation to ban the use of shocks and other aversive treatments in Massachusetts.”
It’s no wonder. How, in the year 2013, could we consider the use of electrical shocks on human beings who are developmentally disabled to be either humane or an appropriate treatment? If it’s so successful, how is it that no other treatment facility in the entire country uses this form of “treatment?” How is it that no independent researchers not connected to the JRC have ever published a single peer-reviewed, controlled scientific study on the effectiveness and safety of GED3A or GED4 devices?
But don’t listen to me. Listen to someone who has undergone this “treatment:”
The GED IS harmful. Even the GED-1. I was burned many times, and I still have scars on my stomach from being repeatedly shocked there, by the FDA approved GED-1. The electrodes had actually burned into my skin. I experienced long term loss of sensation and numbness in my lower left leg, after getting a shock there. I felt searing pain all the way down to the bottom of my foot, and was left with no feeling in my skin from the knee down for about a year. Again, this was with the GED-1.
After complaining to JRC nursing about my leg, they told me to tell the Neurologist about it during a follow up visit for a suspected seizure. He asked the staff what that device was on my leg, and they explained to him it was an electrode. After their explanation, the Neurologist said, “Well, I don’t know what that thing is, but it needs to come off.”
JRC left the device off my leg for about a year, then decided on their own, without sending me back to a Neurologist, it was ok to put it back. I have seen students with torso electrodes accidentally placed on their spine area, get a shock there and be violently bent backwards.
Also, I would like you to know that the devices have a tendency to malfunction and go off all by themselves. JRC refers to this as a “misapplication.”
It happened to me and other students so many times I cannot count. Sometimes the GED’s will just start to go off and shock you by themselves. Other times the staff shock one student but the remote can also set off someone else’s device at the same time. I have also gotten accidentally shocked from staff mixing up my device with another student’s device, shocking me instead.
Then there are the times when staff intentionally misuse the GED. I have had a staff who became angry with me and started pushing more than one remote at a time, shocking me several places on my body at once. I have had staff intentionally give me shocks for things I didn’t do in places like the bus where there was no camera to prove it.
I have had numerous staff over my years there threaten me with a GED, antagonize me to try and get me to have a behavior they can then shock me for, merely for the sport of it. Staff can and DO use the GED to scare non-verbal students into doing what they want them to by pretending they are about to shock them. Some even laugh when they do this.
This is treatment? To me, this sounds a lot more like prison, with the underpaid and under-trained guards being given unlimited access to shock prisoners whenever they feel like it. Or for their own amusement.
The Judge Rotenberg Center, in my opinion, is a facility that appears to be horribly out of control, irresponsible, and out of touch with the times. To me, it represents the absolute worse that psychology and psychiatry has to offer the developmentally disabled.
It’s time for the Judge Rotenberg Center to stop living in the positive echo chamber of the past that it clings to, drop the use of GEDs altogether, and use modern treatment techniques — used successfully in dozens of treatment facilities across the country — to help those in its care.
Read the full patient letter here: Autistic Hoya: Judge Rotenberg Center Survivor's Letter