Protesters Urge Massachusetts Lawmakers To Ban Use Of Aversive Shock Therapy

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Disability rights advocates protested the use of electric skin shocks to treat autism outside the Massachusetts State House last week.

The groups, including the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a nonprofit advocacy group, called on state legislature to pass H.180, or “An Act Regarding The Use Of Aversive Therapy,” sponsored by state Representative Danielle Gregoire (D-Marlborough). 

“We will not forget the voiceless human beings tortured every day, and we won’t let our legislators forget,” said Colbe Mazzarella, project director for the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, according to a press release.

So-called “Aversive Therapy” refers to the “Graduated Electronic Decelerator,” invented and patented by Dr. Matthew Israel, founder of the Judge Rotenberg Center, an institution for people with developmental deficiencies in Canton, Massachusetts, that makes use of the device.

The device uses electric shocks to discourage undesirable behavior. Israel has said there are no negative side effects from the use of the device and that the device has been successful in reducing bad behavior. The device received state approval by a 1987 consent decree.

The Judge Rotenberg Center is thought to be the only place to use a device of this sort, according to a news article published by NBC News in April 2021.

The center has been accused of torture in a report issued by the United Nations agency, a charge the center has denied.

The Federal and Drug Administration banned the device in March 2020, saying the move was “necessary to protect public health,” citing evidence of burns, depression, and stagnating or worsening symptoms.

In July 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned the ban, saying the Food and Drug Administration overstepped its authority in preventing the use of the shock device only when it was used to treat aggressive or self-injurious behavior.

NewBostonPost reached out to the Judge Rotenberg Center for comment on Thursday, May 25. A spokesman did not respond by deadline.

A protest sign against the use of aversive therapy. Courtesy Photo.


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