A Massachusetts school can continue to use electric shock devices to modify behavior by students with intellectual disabilities, a federal court said this month, overturning an attempt by the government to end the controversial practice, which has been described as “torture” by critics but defended by family members.
In a 2-to-1 decision, the judges ruled that a federal ban interfered with the ability of doctors working with the school, the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, to practice medicine, which is regulated by the state. The Food and Drug Administration sought to prohibit the devices in March 2020, saying that delivering shocks to students presents “an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury.”
Although the F.D.A.’s ban was national, the school in Canton, Mass., appears to be the only facility in the United States using the shock devices to correct self-harming or aggressive behavior…
The treatment, in which students wear a special fanny pack with two protruding wires, typically attached to the arm or leg, can deliver quick shocks to the skin when triggered by a staff member with a remote-control device.
Here is the full NYT story. You might argue this treatment can be useful in many cases, but what exactly is the error rate here? How high an error rate should we be willing to accept? What recourse do the victims have, noting that many probably live under guardianship? How might you model the incentives of the staff at the facility who use this? How well do “prison guards” behave more generally?
As a side note, I think this matter should be handled by legislation rather than the FDA.