Joyce votes to limit use of "shock therapy" and establish unified standards and evaluation of treatments

BOSTON – Senator Brian A. Joyce on Tuesday helped advance legislation to create a unified set of standards for shock therapy treatments – so-called “aversive therapy” and similar techniques – and allow their use only in the most extreme cases.
Senator Brian A. Joyce (D-Milton), lead sponsor of the bill, said: “We have a fundamental obligation to protect perhaps the most vulnerable members of our society, disabled children, from this wholesale and repeated application of painful electric skin shocks, sometimes administered while those children are held in restraints, which the United Nations has declared to be torture. With passage of this legislation, we will finally introduce needed safeguards to the behavior modification field.”
The legislation creates standards that would apply to all publicly-operated and/or funded agencies and providers who use shock therapy techniques to reduce challenging behavior. The standards would be enforced by a statewide peer review committee, which would analyze individual treatment plans and make recommendations to both the Probate and Family Court and the Department of Developmental Services.
The bill establishes a new classification to define behavioral treatment interventions as “Level IV” treatments. Level IV aversives would only be used when other less intrusive methods fail and/or when an individual presents a clear risk of harm or injury to themselves or others.
Additional provisions in the aversive therapy bill include:
· Any Level IV aversive treatment plan must also include ongoing objective documentation of the trauma suffered by the individual as a result of the challenging behavior;
· Level IV aversives shall only be implemented by staff who have received specific training, and under direct supervision of a qualified individual with defined professional training;
· Each facility seeking to use Level IV aversives shall establish a facility peer review committee tasked with initial approval of a Level IV aversive plan prior to seeking statewide committee approval;
· Department of Developmental Services, in conjunction with a statewide peer review committee, shall draft rules and regulations relative to Level IV interventions within 90 days of passage of this act; and
· Violation of this act would be reported to the Disabled Persons Protection Commission.
The Senate also passed a related bill that would create a special commission to review and evaluate the current status of aversive therapy in the Commonwealth and the policies and procedures in place governing their use.
Both bills now go to the House of Representatives.