Waves have gone through the Autistic community this week as electric shock of disabled adults, and more appallingly, children has been deemed legal by a US appeals court. Here’s a bit of backstory. Recently, in the US, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) had banned the use of a device called the Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED) that is commonly used at the Judge Rotenburg Educational Center on Autistics of all ages to shock them into obedience. This week the ban was overturned in court and lifted. The use of this dreadful device is continuing at Rotenberg in Canton, Massachusetts.
Now while I am tempted to go on a rant on “How in the world is shocking someone considered education?”, I am resisting, for now. Before I get to that I’m addressing some misnomers that are going around about the use of electricity and it’s validity in medicine. Let’s start with the good stuff that can be done with electricity in medicine!
Electricity sounds scary as a medical treatment however it does have some useful applications. I’ve seen a few that are mislabeling the GED as Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) but it’s not. ECT is a powerful emergency or last resort type of treatment for those with severe and untreatable depression and it has up to a 90% success rate. I know a small handful of people that have had ECT. They are forever grateful for their ECT treatment and how it relieved them from their debilitating depression. ECT is done with a patient’s consent under a doctor’s supervision.
The patient is sedated with general anesthesia and given muscle relaxers to prevent convulsions, their vital signs are monitored during the procedure. An electric current is applied to the patient’s temples via electrode until the doctor sees the patient’s fingers and toes twitch. This let’s the doctor know the treatment is now complete. While no one knows exactly how ECT works, it works! Theories from changing the polarization of the brain to the stimulation of neurotransmitters exist but no one has pinned down what goes on in the brain during the procedure that alleviates depression. ECT has saved lives and, when performed under general anesthesia, is a humane and effective treatment.
Another application of electricity in medicine is the defibrillator. The Automated External Defibrillator (AED) can be found in many public places like malls and in airports. The AED is an emergency tool that is used in the event that someone is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.
The AED electrodes are applied to the chest and can diagnose and treat or prompt the user to treat the heart by administering an electric shock to the heart to get it beating probably again. The AED is a modern miracle and has saved lives. It can be used by both the average person and trained professional to stabilize a situation until help arrives or until they can get the patient to the hospital. The AED is another application of electricity that is relevant in medicine.
I do acknowledge that these two treatments are while people are unconscious and if I am to continue on to make my point I need to have some experience in the matter. Do I have any experience in medicinal use of electricity? Why, yes, I do! I have been fully conscious while given a shock and it wasn’t pleasant. Thankfully it wasn’t an emergency or a GED that I experienced! Instead it was a test that read my nerves to diagnose Peripheral Neuropathy called an Electromyography (EMG).
During the Electromyography my doctor placed an electrode in the form of a needle into my upper calf then he shocked my foot. The needle would read the shock as it traveled up my leg and tell the doctor how much of the electricity was making it through my nerves. The doctor said it would be a little sting or pinch or other inadequate saying they use to not tell you it’s really going to hurt. The shock hurt my toes, my foot, and made all the muscles in my leg jump. It was extremely unpleasant and my leg was sore for that day.
The sensation was stronger than the one you get when you scuff your feet on the carpet and then touch the door knob. It was stronger than the static in the blanket. Yet, I have a feeling that the medically sound shock to my foot wasn’t as strong as the aversive called the GED that is being used to torture disabled people into submission in school. They say it feels like a bee sting, have you ever been stung by a bee? It is painful!
I’d like to point out that Rotenberg is not a medical establishment as it claims to be a “school” and a place of “education”. It’s the only school in the United States to use shock treatment on disabled adults and children alike. The GED is worn by the victim while the control for the device remains in possession of the “teacher”. When the so-called “student” does something that the teacher disapproves of, the teacher then shocks the pupil until the pupil complies with the demand. These demands are as petty as not taking your coat off within an acceptable amount of time which is decided on by said teacher. Students are even shocked for crying because they were shocked. Self-stimulatory Behavior, which enables Autistics to produce necessary neurotransmitters to process the environment and release anxiety in the body, is punished by shock. This is not medicine, this is not education. It’s senseless abuse and it should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. The GED needs to be recognized as such under the Constitution.
There is no medical or educational application for the GED when there are more humane ways to help someone that is disabled. Care, Patience, Time, Repetition, Respect, and many other methods exist to teach. The GED does not teach nor treat, the GED scares people making them live in fear of doing the most human thing of all and that is making mistakes. No one should be punished for that.
GED (Graduated Electronic Decelerator)
ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy)
AED (Automated External Defibrillator)