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No more waiting — put a stop to skin shock therapy

A therapist checked the ankle strap of an electrical shocking device on a student during an exercise program at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton in this 2014 file photo.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The pain administered at Canton facility is not acceptable treatment

Re “Availability of better alternatives should guide decision on skin shock therapy at Canton facility” (Editorial, May 21): The lowest-level shocks used on vulnerable people with disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center are roughly twice what pain researchers have said is tolerable for most humans. People who have experienced the shock describe it as “searing” or “stabbing” pain.

While the Rotenberg Center says that shock is used only when behaviors are dangerous, others have described it being used for behaviors as innocuous as getting out of one’s seat or failing to maintain a neat appearance. There are people with significantly challenging behaviors in every state, where community-based treatment options have been chosen that are both more effective and more humane. Furthermore, people from only a fraction of all US states are sent to the Rotenberg Center.


More than 100 disability advocacy organizations oppose the use of electric shock as punishment, as does the American Civil Liberties Union. The United Nations says it violates the UN Convention Against Torture.

Meanwhile, each day of delay is another day of terror for the people subjected to this cruel intervention. It is time that the courts take action to stop the Rotenberg Center from terrorizing and torturing people with disabilities.

Nancy Weiss

Hunt Valley, Md.

The writer is an adviser to the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities.

Michael Hartt

Valencia, Spain

The writer is coordinator of the Boston chapter of Amnesty International.

The system has failed these families

I was appalled to read your editorial essentially endorsing the continued use of electric skin shock at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center. The use of electric shock to cause pain as a method of behavior modification is unacceptable on its face. It is also ineffective. Once the threat of pain is removed, the unwanted behaviors inevitably return.


Using electric shock as a punishment is inhumane. But then, I see no evidence that the editorial board recognizes the humanity of this treatment’s victims. While you have quoted an attorney for the Rotenberg Center and select parents, you provide no evidence of having spoken directly to, or even considered the experiences of, the disabled people subjected to this treatment. You decry a lack of alternatives without displaying any effort to investigate or promote them.

Nor is it a convincing argument to suggest that parents would inevitably reject shock therapy if an alternative existed. Parents of disabled individuals make choices for all sorts of reasons — embarrassment, frustration, social pressure, financial pressure, and hopelessness — that have nothing to do with the best interests of their children. The health care system has failed these families. Torture is not the answer.

Sarah Barton


The writer is the mother of a disabled child and serves as co-chair of the Arlington Special Education Parent Advisory Council.