Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Committee hears bill on aversive therapy ban

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
This story was published in the MetroWest Daily News on 10/28/09. The published story may vary from this version. The story was not published to the MetroWest Daily News website.

BOSTON - For Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Brookline, the struggle to get his nephew’s arms through a long-sleeved shirt provided a graphic demonstration for allowing the 32-year-old mentally disabled man to continue controversial electroshock therapy at a Canton facility.

“An outright ban would essentially kill Brandon. It is a death sentence for Brandon," Sanchez said of his nephew, who once bit off part of his own tongue.

The drama before the Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities on Tuesday focused on a series of bills that would either regulate or ban the use of aversive therapy at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton.

Although the center, which houses 193 patients, more than half of them children, is the only of its kind in the state, its use of "aversive" therapy is an emotional issue.

Over 100 people, many parents and family members of seriously mentally disabled children, signed up to speak at the hearing.

Sanchez said he opposed the bills that would ban or further restrict the use of aversive therapy.

But the sponsor of a bill banning the therapy, Rep. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover, a parent of an autistic child, said the therapy was wrong.

Referencing the incident at the center in 2007, where a high functioning autistic resident was shocked 77 times as the result of a prank call, L’Italien said there are many other positive approaches and, “clearly the status quo isn't working."
Sen. Brian Joyce, D-Canton,who sponsored similar Senate bills, said, “This is the single most important bill that I have ever dealt with.”

One of the proposed bills would create restrictions for using aversive therapy.
Michael Flammia, an attorney who represents the center said that aversive treatments are already heavily regulated and treatment plans are approved through probate court.

The aversive treatment, particularly shock, is used as a last resort, often after a year of attempting other positive treatments, said Ernie Corrigan, who represents the center.

But Matthew Engel, an attorney at the Disability Law Center, told the committee he had tried the least powerful electric shock and, “it was an experience from hell.”
Sen. Gale Candaras, D-Wilbraham, co-chair of the committee questioned why shock therapy wasn't considered legal battery.

“What is the difference between taking your hands and smacking these individuals or hitting them with a belt or sticking them with pins? All we are doing is removing ourselves one step, and pushing a button.”

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