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Electric Shock Therapy Used Against Teen Students

Electric therapy has been used as a medical treatment in various forms for decades. While there is some medical benefit to the responsible use of electric shock therapy, this generally does not involve the use of electric shocks to cause pain. Shock devices to cause pain to modify behavior has since been banned by the FDA for use in schools. 

Malpractice Lawsuit Against Use of Electro Shock 

The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JRC) is a residential school in Canton, Massachusetts for children with developmental disabilities and behavioral problems. The school had been using controversial therapies to treat troubled kids, including a graduated electronic decelerator. The shock device was developed by the school’s founder, Matthew Israel, for “aversive therapy.” 

A parent filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the school after her 18-year-old son, Andre, was treated with the electric shock device. Video that was accessed during the lawsuit shows Cheryl McCollins’ son screaming in pain while in restraints. The student was later taken to the hospital and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the family’s lawyer.

Andre had been diagnosed with autism and pervasive developmental disorder. The problem for which Andre was reportedly shocked was failing to take off his coat. For that, and for tensing his muscles, and for screaming, he received about 30 shocks over the next 7 hours. 

There have been a number of outspoken critics of the school, including a local state senator, who alerted constituents to the practice, with the intention to “stop this barbaric practice that takes place in my district.”

In a prior investigation, where two students were given shocks for making prank phone calls, the founder was accused of destroying videotaped evidence. In an agreement with the attorney general, the founder agreed to temporarily step down as head of the school. 

A former teacher at the school has joined the opponents of the school. Greggory Miller worked at the center for 3 years before he finally quit the job after he became “horrified” by what he and others at the school had to do. 

FDA Bans School Electric Shock Device 

In March 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), banned the use of electrical stimulation devices (ESDs) “for self injurious or aggressive behavior because they present an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury that cannot be corrected or eliminated through new or updated device labeling.”

While the ban was general, there was only one facility in the U.S. using the shock devices for these limited purposes. At the time of the ban, between 45 and 50 individuals were being treated with the shock device at the JRC. Now, the JRC can no longer use the shock devices on student residents.   

Decades of Questionable Practices 

An article from 2007 in Mother Jones, “The School of Shock,” describes the disturbing history of Matt Israel’s questionable practices. After he found success in “treating” a 3-year-old daughter of a roommate with snapping fingers against her cheeks to stop disturbing him and others, Israel decided to start a school. In treating severely autistic and mentally retarded kids, he developed a number of punishments to change their behavior, including pinching, smacking, spraying them with water, and making them inhale ammonia. 

Israel later opened a California branch. In 1981, a 14-year-old resident died while strapped down to his bed. An investigation by social services found children regularly restrained for hours, sometimes face down, with bruising and swelling around the restraints, isolation, food deprivation, and not being allowed to use the bathroom. Injuries from pinches and spankings resulted in cuts, open wounds, scabs, and scars  

Injury Against Children as Behavior Modification

Intentionally injuring, torturing, or humiliating a child is not an acceptable method of behavior modification. If your child was injured under the guise of medical care, talk to experienced medical malpractice attorneys about your rights. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or by calling (800) 529-6162.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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