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Democratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students

Eight Democratic senators asked the FDA in a signed letter to ban the use of a device, available exclusively in Massachusetts, used to administer electric shocks to disabled students.

The letter, dated Monday, called on the agency to finalize a rule banning the devices after issuing a proposed rule nearly four years ago in April 2016.

The FDA announced in 2018 that it intended to issue a final rule by December 2019, with then-Commissioner Scott Gottlieb saying “we believe these products present an unreasonable and substantial risk to public health that cannot be corrected or eliminated through changes to the labeling.” However, the agency missed the deadline, which the senators called “unacceptable.”

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Signers of the letter include Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.).

“That ESDs [electric shock devices] continue to be used on children and adults with disabilities as punishment is unacceptable. In one case, brought to light in an expose, a young man was shocked 31 times, ending up in a hospital due to the trauma and physical effects,” the senators assert.

“This practice must be stopped without delay. We urge you to finalize the proposed rule and take immediate action to ban the electric shock of people with disabilities.”

Murray also commented on the practice of using the device independently. 

“It is unconscionable that in 2020, it is still legal to shock children and adults with disabilities as a method to control behavior. We have an obligation to protect children and adults with disabilities from archaic and inhumane forms of punishment — no more excuses, the FDA needs to finalize this rule immediately,” Murray said in a statement.  

The device in question is used in the Judge Rotenberg Education Center in Canton, Mass.

Officials have argued the devices are necessary to prevent self-injuring behavior, and Marie Washington, president of the Judge Rotenberg Center Family Association, accused critics of practice of putting students “in danger of losing the only safe and effective treatment available to them,” according to WGBH.

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