More than a year after the Food and Drug Administration said it might ban electric-shock devices used to modify behavior in individuals with disabilities, advocates are calling on the agency to take action.

In a letter sent last week to Stephen Ostroff, acting commissioner of the FDA, dozens of disability advocacy organizations urged the agency to ban what are known as aversive conditioning devices.

“We call for the FDA to issue a total ban on any aversive conditioning devices used for contingent electric shock, in order to protect the public’s right to safe, evidence-based treatment and the inherent human rights and dignity of people with disabilities,” reads the letter signed by over 70 advocacy groups including The Arc, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Autism Society of America, the National Disability Rights Network and the National Down Syndrome Society.

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Currently, the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Massachusetts is believed to be the only facility in the country using devices to administer skin shocks when individuals exhibit undesired behavior. The center, which serves children and adults with developmental disabilities as well as those with behavioral and emotional problems, has long held that the approach is a last resort for those with “life-threatening behavior disorders.”

In April 2014, the FDA’s Neurological Devices Panel held a meeting to weigh the benefits of the devices. At the time, a majority of the panel indicated that they believed the evidence was insufficient to show that such devices provide a benefit. What’s more, most members found that the devices “presented a substantial and unreasonable risk of illness or injury.”

As an advisory panel, the group can make recommendations to the FDA, but it is up to the agency to decide whether or not to act and there is no timetable that must be followed, officials said.

Deborah Kotz, a spokeswoman for the FDA, confirmed to Disability Scoop that the agency has received the advocates’ letter and is reviewing it, but said she could not provide any details about when, or even if, there will be any action on the issue.

“We certainly take these panel meetings very seriously,” Kotz said. “It’s just impossible to predict any sort of timeline from these panel meetings because there are so many factors involved.”

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