The US Food and Drug Administration this week banned the use of electrical shock devices, a draconian form of ‘aversion therapy’ until now applied to discourage aggressive or self harming behaviors. Shock therapy has long been in disfavor, but until the FDA’s ruling it was still in use for 45 to 50 patients at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center of Canton, Massachusetts.
The devise in question, and now banned, is known as the graduated electronic declerator (GED). It consists of bands strapped to a patient/inmate’s wrists or ankles and a small box, about the size of a deck of cards, that can be held or kept in the pocket of an institutional employee. When the patient does something prohibited — hurts himself or attacks someone — the staff member can use the small box to trigger electrical shock remotely through those bans. The sensation has been compared to bee sting.
The use of electric shocks to the skin as aversion therapy is distinct from the even more notorious practice of “electroconvulsion therapy,” or ECT, in which electrical currents pass through the brain.
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In 2002, Andre McCollins, an 18 year old with autism, and a patient at the Canton facility, was strapped to a board and subjected to 31 of the highest-level shocks over a seven hour period. Disturbing footage of this incident, with McCollins screaming and jerking in pain, became public ten years later.