A federal court of appeals ruled Tuesday that the only school in the country that administers electric shocks to students can continue doing so.
The court ruled that the Food and Drug Administration cannot block the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts, from using a device called the graduated electronic decelerator as a “treatment of last resort.” The school serves those with severe disabilities, including many with non-verbal autism who have been ejected from other group homes over harm to themselves and others.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that “the FDA lacks the statutory authority to ban a medical device for a particular use.” The FDA did not comment on the ruling. The agency previously found that between 45 and 50 students of the 275 who reside at Rotenberg receive electric shocks.
The Rotenberg Center issued a statement praising the ruling: “The (Graduated Electronic Decelerator) is a treatment of last resort, and its recipients are at risk of grievous bodily harm, or even death, without it. With the treatment, these residents can continue to participate in enriching experiences.”
A similar court case over the graduated electronic decelerator gave rise to a FDA rule banning its use entirely last year. A horrifying video from the center of a resident, Andre McCollins, emerged during a lawsuit. The footage showed McCollins tied to a restraint board and shocked 31 times over the course of seven hours for not removing his jacket when instructed to. He screams “Stop! Stop!” and “That hurts!” in the video and was hospitalized for a month afterward.
A former student at the school, Rico Torres, told NBC earlier this year that Rotenberg teachers wired electrodes to his skin for 24 hours a day for a decade. Torres attended the school from ages 8 to 18, spending the vast majority of his time with a 12-volt battery strapped to his back. Currently, the device is only approved for those over 18.
The school’s parents’ association also issued a statement lauding Tuesday’s ruling. “We are grateful for the careful deliberation and the decision reached by the court and these judges,” they said. “We have and will continue to fight to keep our loved ones safe and alive and to retain access to this life saving treatment of last resort.”
The parents said they favored electric shocks over physical restraints or medication.
“There is no other treatment for our loved ones, and we will not stand by as they are mechanically or chemically restrained,” they said.