FDA Pending Decision on Shock Therapy Use

Shock therapy has always been considered a controversial treatment method. Still present today, the technique may be used by doctors to control for severe behavioral conditions. While some patients report the sensation as similar to a tight pinch or a bee sting, others claim it causes much pain similar to a thousand bee stings.

The FDA is in the process of deciding where or not the use of such therapy should be banned, citing incidences at the Judge Rotenberg Education Center in Canton, MA- the only known place in the US that uses electrical skin shocks to condition patients. . The center uses skin shocks to condition against aggressive behavior, such as self harm, associated with patients with autism.  The center was founded in 1971, and began using shock therapy in the 1990s. To date, it reports treating about 230 children and adults every year. Margaret Hambug, FDA Commissioner, states,

We really wanted to take a much more focused and rigorous look at it. There’s a lot of concern about the downside of this approach and the and the risk to the patients receiving it.”

Currently, Rotenberg must receive permission from a court to administer skin shocks to students. To do so, the center a graduated electronic decelerator, or GED, that is attached to the arms or legs. If the student acts aggressively, the center worker can apply a two-second shock to the student by pressing a button.

While many parents at the center claim such therapy is the only treatment that has worked for their children, some patients claim the treatment gives them anxiety and that the technology itself is prone to unintended shocks.

The use of such therapy was originally approved by the FDA in 1994, however the center in question uses a new device 2.5 times stronger than approved. The FDA stated in 2000 that the new technology did not require approval, yet backtracked in 2011, deciding it did. Many parents of children at the center ask officials not to issue a ban until an adequate alternative treatment is provided.


Read more here- “Shock Therapy at Mass. School Getting FDA’s Attention,” (The Associated Press, NewsDay)

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Olivia is a graduate of Villanova University where she studied Economics and History, minoring in Gender and Women's Studies. She also has experience working with federal legislatures on health care policy, women's issues, and Internet safety.


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