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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

NCIL Applauds FDA’s Final Ban on Electric Shock Devices

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally released their final ban on the electric shock devices used to shock disabled people at the Judge Rotenberg Center. The rule was released on Wednesday and published on Friday. The rule, which will go into effect after 30 days (on April 6), will end the use of contingent shock devices to punish unwanted behavior, which JRC calls “treatment”. As a national cross-disability organization that advocates for the civil and human rights of people with disabilities, the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) applauds this ban.

JRC, in Canton, MA, is the only facility known to use these devices. It is believed that currently nearly 50 individuals are subjected to being tortured by these devices, which includes having electrodes strapped to their bodies, 24 hours a day, in order that painful shocks can be delivered by staff armed with remote control activators. All JRC residents, the majority of whom are reported by visitors to be people of color and most of whom are from outside Massachusetts, are subjected to intense behavioral controls, and contingent shock is the most egregious of the abuses. The devices are also known to malfunction in common conditions such as the steam after a shower, and to sometimes be activated by the wrong button. After the rule goes into effect, JRC will have 6 months to transition people off the devices.

Thank you to everyone who has taken a stand and fought to get this ban finalized. Disability rights advocates, and especially self-advocates with intellectual disabilities, the autistic community, other people with disabilities, and ethical professionals, both inside and outside of Massachusetts, have been working together for decades to stop the torture at JRC. NCIL especially wants to thank the survivors who have spoken out, who have brought this travesty to the nation’s attention, and who have endured so much to protect others as they were not protected. It has been six years since the FDA held their hearing on the graduated electronic decelerator (GED) shock devices and over a year since they announced the ban would be finalized in 2019. During that time, efforts to get the ban finalized have continued as JRC has continued to torture disabled people with these devices. This ban is long overdue. There is still much more work that needs to be done. JRC, like many institutions, still uses other forms of abuse to control and torture the disabled people who live there, and abusive control is presented as “support” in a wide range of disability services. The finalization of the ban is only a first step, but it is a tremendous victory.

Since NCIL’s founding in 1982, we have fought for the rights of people with disabilities. That includes the rights of all people with disabilities to receive the long-term services and supports we need in our own homes, in our own communities, and according to our own values, and to make our own decisions. The FDA’s decision to protect disabled people from punitive electric shock is a step toward a future in which the promise of that right is fulfilled.