Disability Activists Urge FDA To Ban Shock Devices
Dozens of people with disabilities have been camped out for days outside the home of the Food and Drug Administration commissioner to pressure the agency to ban electric shock devices used on those with special needs.
Protesters with the disability rights group ADAPT — many in wheelchairs — are maintaining an around-the-clock vigil across from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s Washington, D.C. condominium. They say they will stay put until Gottlieb acts to finalize a proposal to ban the shock devices.
Two years ago, the FDA issued a proposed regulation that would do away with so-called electrical stimulation devices, which use electrodes attached to the skin to deliver electric shocks in order to condition individuals not to engage in self-injurious or aggressive behaviors.
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At the time, the FDA said the devices “present an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury that cannot be corrected or eliminated by labeling.” To date, however, the federal agency has taken no action to finalize the regulation meaning that the electric shock devices remain in use.
The only place in the country known to be using the devices is the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, which serves children and adults with developmental disabilities as well as those with behavioral and emotional problems, in Canton, Mass. As of 2016, the FDA said between 45 and 50 individuals at the center were believed to be exposed to the shocks.
Use of the devices has long been a lightning rod. The Rotenberg Center has said that the method offers a last resort for individuals with “life-threatening behavior disorders,” but disability advocates insist the approach is harmful and ineffective.
Protesters with ADAPT have remained across from Gottlieb’s home since Friday afternoon chanting, singing and providing literature to the commissioner’s neighbors about the shock devices and the proposed regulation. In addition, some of the ADAPT activists demonstrated outside the White House on Monday.
“Disabled people are being tortured there every day,” said Priya Penner, an ADAPT organizer from Rochester, N.Y. who’s participating in the demonstration, of the Rotenberg Center. “The FDA has these regulations that are already available and it’s going on for almost two years now. All that needs to happen is that Gottlieb needs to sign off on them. It’s very, very simple — as soon as he signs off on the regulations, we’d be happy to leave.”
ADAPT has yet to receive any communication from Gottlieb, the FDA or the White House.
FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Caccomo declined to comment on the protesters but said the proposed rule remains under consideration.
“At this time, all we can say is that the FDA is still in the process of finalizing the rule and we cannot speculate on timing,” Caccomo told Disability Scoop.