World News

Use of Shock Devices on Mentally-Disabled Patients

Mentally-disabled patients have faced a dark path throughout humanity’s history. These individuals have endured mistreatment and torture in the Middle Ages, exposure to cruel experiments by various regimes and oppressive governments, and negligence in modern history, specifically in the 20th century. It is clear that they have had more than their fair share in suffering. With increased advocacy for equal human rights, much of the current populace is under the impression that mentally-disabled patients are treated appropriately and with good care. Sadly, this is not true.

Why and how were these devices being used?

According to the Associated Press, the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center of Canton has been the only center in the United States during the last few years that employs electric shock devices on mentally-disabled patients. This residential school houses individuals with autism and other psychiatric, developmental or mental disabilities. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to ban the devices on March 4 after announcing this intent back in 2016, halting the years-long practice by the institution. The Administration estimated that about 45 to 50 individuals were being treated with the device, and the school’s administrators expressed that the shocks were a last resort to prevent dangerous behaviors and potential self-harm from patients. To clarify, these shock devices were not being used for electrotherapy, but rather were being used to induce pain and discomfort in patients.

Prior to the ban, many disability rights groups and mental health experts had called the treatment outdated, ineffective and unethical, pressuring the FDA to take action. However, this is not the end. According to this educational institution, “[the] FDA made a decision based on politics, not facts, to deny this life-saving, court-approved treatment.” Apart from facing criticism from many individuals against the practice, this claim contradicted modern practices when handling these mental disabilities, as mainstream psychiatry today relies on behavioral modification, prescription drugs and other therapies that were proven to be more effective. Furthermore, Dr. William Maisel, a director in the FDA’s design center, advancements in science have paved ways to more methods of preventing self harm or aggressive behavior.

The school has faced multiple lawsuits from families who have stated that their children have become traumatized by the inhumane treatment, while others expressed that this technique was the only failsafe way to prevent violent behavior.

The FDA has only banned two other medical devices in its history of more than 40 years: powdered surgical gloves and fake hair implants, both of which were dangerous to the patients being treated. This case deviated from the usual protocol of FDA regulations, consisting of adding new warning labels or modifying pre-existing instructions for these devices. In conclusion, the Food and Drug Administration, after weighing the cons and widely-available alternatives to the shock devices, determined that they were unnecessary and harmful to the patients who were using them.

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