FDA Proposes Ban on Electric Shock Devices for the Second Time

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking decisive action for the second time in an attempt to prohibit the use of electrical stimulation devices (ESDs) designed to curb self-injury or aggressive behavior. This move comes as the FDA has identified these devices as presenting an “unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury.” Disability rights advocates and international bodies, such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, have long been advocating for the banishment of these devices from the healthcare landscape.

The FDA’s initial attempt to ban electric shock devices in 2020 faced a legal setback when a federal appeals court overturned the decision, citing the agency’s lack of authority to restrict the devices’ usage. However, subsequent changes to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, granted by Congress, have now provided the FDA with the necessary jurisdiction to implement such bans on specific device uses. Human rights organizations and advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, have urged the FDA to take prompt action following this legislative clarification. They emphasize the urgency of the situation, stressing that individuals with disabilities have endured painful and hazardous electric shocks for over a decade, necessitating an immediate end to this form of abuse.

The FDA’s rationale for the proposed ban on electric shock devices examines the risks associated with their usage. These risks include not only the immediate physical and psychological consequences but also the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. According to the FDA, the utilization of electrical stimulation devices can exacerbate underlying symptoms and pose threats to both mental and physical health. These dangers include the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, along with the potential for pain, burns, and tissue damage, which can have enduring effects on an individual’s well-being. The FDA highlights the impact of these devices on individuals who may already face communication barriers or have difficulty making independent treatment decisions due to their disabilities. This aspect outlines the ethical complexity surrounding the use of such devices, as it raises questions about autonomy, consent, and the safeguarding of vulnerable populations. By acknowledging these concerns, the FDA explains the need for a compassionate and inclusive approach to healthcare practices, one that prioritizes the dignity and rights of all individuals, regardless of their abilities.

The FDA’s assessment of the situation sheds light on the specific context in which electric shock devices are employed. The only facility that currently uses these devices is The Judge Rotenberg Education Center in Canton, Massachusetts. Despite past regulatory scrutiny and warnings regarding unauthorized modifications to these devices, the center continues to incorporate them into treatment plans for approximately 50 individuals. This insight into the current landscape of device usage shows the urgency of regulatory action, as it directly impacts the lives and well-being of those subjected to these treatments. The FDA aims to remove electric shock devices from the market and provide support for affected individuals during the transition away from these devices. The agency recognizes the importance of accommodating the needs of patients currently reliant on such treatment methods while safeguarding against further harm.

The FDA’s re-issuance of the ban on electric shock devices signifies a necessary step towards prioritizing patient safety and aligning healthcare practices with ethical standards. By addressing the unreasonable risks posed by these devices, the FDA reaffirms its commitment to promoting the well-being and rights of individuals with disabilities. The proposed ban, open for public comments until May 28, marks progress in moving towards more humane and effective approaches to healthcare treatment.