Friday, July 22, 2011
State gathering public comment on shock-therapy, advocates continue to speak out

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts held a public hearing on Wednesday and is set to hold the second hearing today to hear what the public has to say about aversive therapy. The state Department of Health and Human Services held Wednesday's hearing in Worcester and Friday's hearing is being held in Boston to gain feedback from supporters and opponents. (Click here for detailed information on today's hearing.)
The controversial therapy has continued to grab headlines over the years. Canton's Judge Rotenberg Center is one of the only centers in the country that uses aversive therapy as treatment. After the founder of the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton stepped down in May, the JRC has been the focus of several stories, including a three-part series here on Canton Patch.
Patch has covered a boycott of radio advertisements for the JRC organized by New York-based advocate George Deabold, interviewed parents who support the center for their child’s treatment, interviewed the JRC Attorney Michael Flemmia and shared comments from Senator Brian A. Joyce, a long-time opponent of aversive therapies. The stories on Canton Patch have created comments, debate and discussion online. Many readers voiced their opposition to the JRC and supported the radio boycott.
Although the state senate passed Senator Joyce’s sponsored amendment banning aversive therapy on May 26, the House did not take action on the amendment.
This week, the state Department of Developmental Services under the Department of Health and Human Services, sought public feedback on their own proposed amendment.
The DDS amendment is "virtually identical to the amendment that we passed in the Senate during recent budget deliberation," Senator Brian A. Joyce told Patch Thursday night.
The DDS amendment calls for establishing “the highest practicable professional standards for use of behavior modification procedures for persons with intellectual disability in public or private facilities for the care and treatment of such persons. The proposed amendments will prohibit the use of aversive (Level III) behavioral interventions on a prospective basis,” according to a statement from DDS.
“Proposed amendments will allow continued use of Level III interventions for individuals who, as of September 1, 2011, have an existing court-approved behavior plan that includes Level III interventions, and will allow their renewal each year so long as Level III interventions remain a part of their court-approved behavior plan.”
According to a statement by DDS Commissioner Elin M. Howe, “The Department may adopt a revised version of the proposed regulations taking into account relevant comments and any other practical alternatives that come to the department’s attention” as a result of the public hearings.
Kevin Hall, the New England Director of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, read a letter opposing the use of aversive treatments that the Judge Rotenberg Center uses.
“I want the amendment proposal to pass and I don't want it overturned in the courts,” Hall said in an interview.
“How could a treatment plan possibly be approved that causes terror in clients who are acting appropriately?” Hall wrote in his testimony to DDS, which he read on Wednesday.
When asked about those parents who have children at JRC receiving shock therapy and who support the JRC, Hall said he feels sorry for those parental supporters.
“I am sorry for the parents whose children were badly harmed through heavy psychotropic drugging in other institutions (prior to the JRC) and feel this practice should also be stopped,” he said.
“Nonetheless, there are some places, like Boston Higashi in Randolph that treat similar clients with exercise and keeping them busy and extroverted,” he said. “I understand that the JRC parents are at their wit's end on what to do with their children, but don't feel they are doing their children any favor by letting them be terrorized with painful shocks, food deprivation and other aversives.”