Leo’s Letter: Split Decision Allows Painful Electric Shocks to Continue

In a split decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the FDA’s ban on the use of an electric shock device which inflicts pain on persons with disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts.

As Peter Berns, my national counterpart at The Arc has stated, we believe that “there are alternative methods for behavioral supports for people with disabilities and other needs that do not include excessive force, pain, and fear.” I am shocked and disappointed at this turn of events.

Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan dissented from his two other colleagues. He wrote in his opinion, “The FDA found that use of electrical stimulation devices to treat those behaviors poses a number of health and safety risks—from physical injuries such as severe pain, skin burns, and tissue damage, to psychological injuries such as panic, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Additionally, he pointed out:

  • the FDA took years to study the issue
  • that the partial ban of the device was warranted since some persons with disabilities would not see a casual connection with their behavior NOR did they have control over the use of the device.

This is not the end to this issue or ending this practice. The civil rights of persons with disabilities hangs in the balance.

Continue reading about this decision in The Boston Globe: “Court decision allows Canton school to continue using electric shocks on residents with intellectual disabilities”


  1. Sheila Lepotakis

    The fact they still use this archaic torture machine means to change behavior is ridiculous !! I say use it on the one administering first. Then we’ll see this change and stop being used. Sickens me !!

  2. Avis Anne Quint

    Let’s get this judgement overturned!

    • This should without a doubt go to the Supreme Court, and be overturned. Can’t believe this stuff is happening!! …sad indeed

    • Sheila..I could not agree more. I am not an emotional person but the thought of someone shocking my son gets me so angry

  3. Are we back in the 18th or 19th century? What’s next, lobotomy? This is horrible and is barbaric! It is totally wrong.

  4. What is going on?!! This is 2021, the 21st century. Here in Massachusetts. We cannot turn a blind eye to this torture.

  5. ECT is barbaric. I was the legal guardian for the last ten year’s of an individual, with severe issues. They wanted me to approve ECT. I was against it but was pressured. I requested a medical guardian ad litem.
    She also wanted it tried. After the ECT, the behaviors were the same, but he became night time incontinent. They wanted a second round. My response was “Never again!!”

  6. I am the parent of two children with disabilities and I am outraged to hear about this. If drs and judges believe this type of treatment is the only method they can come up with to treat an individual’s negative behavior, with all the research out there that proves otherwise, then why aren’t they using it on criminals to rehabilitate them so there’s less crime in the world? Perhaps use in therapy for that person who wants to quit smoking and can’t.? Maybe the person with an eating disorder? What’s that? We can’t because it’s a violation of their civil rights unless they give consent?
    So disabled individual’s who dont get to have a voice also don’t get to have rights. They’re not people just something someone else owns to do what they will. The message comes across loud and clear in this decision!

  7. This must be the absolute last resort for these individuals. Since I don’t know the unique situations, I have to refrain from making comments based only on my assumptions. I know people who have had shock treatments for depression and it worked every time. Again, it was the last resort for these people.

  8. This decision shows that the evil that has been on display in our world has seeped its way into our judicial systems and can prey on the most vulnerable. The weak and vulnerable are all at risk. We need to stand up together and fight this.

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