BOSTON — The Massachusetts Legislature is set to take up a bill on Tuesday that would limit the use of shock therapy and other controversial treatments sometimes used to treat disabled children.
The Senate bill would allow shock therapy — but only in extreme cases and after gaining approval from a new state committee.
Defined by the United Nations as torture, shock therapy and other “aversive” treatments like sleep and food deprivation are currently permitted under state law.
The Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, a residential treatment facility that provides behavior modification therapy for special-needs children and adults, currently treats some patients with shock therapy.
State Sen. Brian Joyce says he has been fighting for more than 10 years to protect disabled children by restricting the use of such treatments.
“We in government have a fundamental obligation to defend the defenseless,” Joyce said, “and here we’re seeking to protect perhaps our most vulnerable members of society.”
Advocates of shock therapy, however, believe that they have seen demonstrable positive results in children who have undergone the treatment. Newton resident Louisa Goldberg says her son has benefited dramatically from shock therapy at the Rotenberg Center.
“The legislators, if they really dig into this matter, and really look and see how these kids were acting before and how they’re acting now, they wouldn’t want (the restrictions) either,” Goldberg said.
But Joyce says that the treatment should not be used at all.
“I don’t know of a single other facility in the country that utilizes this practice,” Joyce said, “nor do I know a single other state that would allow this practice, which I consider barbaric.”
For families that have seen benefits that they attribute to shock therapy, however, the added regulation would be an unwelcome hurdle to treatment.
“Where are these kids going to turn if this is so highly regulated that it becomes ineffective?” Goldberg asked. “I am not looking forward to my son’s life going back to the way it was.”