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January 2011



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by Claude Solnik
Published: July 1, 2010


A high ranking United Nations official has declared electric shock to be “torture” as it’s used at a facility treating autistic students and requested the United States government to investigate the allegations.


The Judge Rotenberg Center, in Canton, Mass., uses electricity to shock autistic children and children with severe behavior problems.


About 100 students, or nearly half of those cared for at the facility, are from New York state.


Michael Flammia, a lawyer who represents the center and a parent group, told LIBN about half of the center’s students receive electric shock.


Although debate and litigation continues as to whether “skin shock” should be allowed, the United Nations’ involvement lifted the discussion to a new, global level.


Manfred Nowak, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture said on a Nightline segment last night that he believed the treatment to be torture.


The official charged with identifying and notifying governments of possible cases of torture said he contacted the United States government after receiving a report and urgent appeal for action from Washington, D.C.-based Mental Disability Rights International.


“To be frank, I was shocked when I was reading the report,” Nowak said on the show.


The United Nations made the request for the Obama Administration to investigate, as a signatory to the U.N. convention against torture.


“Electricity in general is considered torture in every other context,” Laurie Ahern, president of Mental Disability Rights International, told LIBN. “That’s one of the ideas of torture.”


The school’s founder and chief, Matthew Israel, in an interview Nightline conducted in 2007 and replayed last night, said electricity has “no side effects” and is “extremely effective as a corrective procedure” for patients with self-destructive behavior.


He insisted levels are enough to cause pain, but far better than the alternative of sedation through medication, leaving children “drugged up to their gills with drugs that cause them to be so sedated that they potentially sleep all day.”


Ahern told LIBN she sees this as a false choice, noting the center treats only about 200 students, while many more receive a wide range of treatments elsewhere.


She also noted students can remain there for decades, subject to shocks, and cited students who had thrived after leaving the center.


Ahern said the use of electricity on students or patients is inappropriate just as it is on prisoners in order to obtain information, regardless of the strength of the shock.


“You can’t have torture light,” she said. “That’s the reason torture’s prevented. It’s a slippery slope.”




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