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Children's Health

FDA panel recommends banning shock devices used on disabled students

The majority of members on an FDA advisory panel recommended Thursday to ban the devices that deliver painful electric shocks to disabled students at the Judge Rotenberg Center [in Canton, Mass.], saying the risks of the devices used for aversive therapy outweigh the benefits.

“What happened today is a big step forward in the fight to ban aversives and to free those currently at the Judge Rotenberg Center,” said disability rights activist Ari Ne’eman, who attended the hearing.

The panel of experts will make several recommendations to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding the use of the shocks for treatment. The only place they are used in the country is at the Canton-based Judge Rotenberg Center.

The Rotenberg Center defended the devices, known as Graduated Electronic Decelerators, or GEDs, saying they can be the only thing stopping severely disabled students from engaging in destructive, self-injurious behavior.

“No other treatment facility is willing to take these kids in most cases,” said Rotenberg Center Executive Director Glenda Crookes. “The data demonstrate a clear clinical need for these devices. Those utilizing this therapy at JRC have failed at all other treatment centers. They have failed at JRC prior to the utilization of the GED devices. Our parents are often told there are other options. There are not for these families. They've all been tried and all failed.”

The shocks have always been controversial, but momentum against them has picked up thanks in part to the release of video of former student Andre McCollins being restrained and shocked for hours.

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