Shock therapy protesters arrested outside HHS secretary's home

Written by Julie Spitzer | June 12, 2018 | Print  |

Several demonstrators from an advocacy group for disabled people were arrested outside HHS Secretary Alex Azar's Indiana home during a protest of federal inaction to ban the use of shock devices on developmentally disabled patients, IndyStar reports.

Police were called because the demonstration was taking place on private property. The protesters reportedly ignored several warnings from Indianapolis police, and about 26 people were booked on trespassing charges.

The advocacy group, Adapt, said there were about 50 people protesting. The majority were not able-bodied, IndyStar reported.

The group says the use of shock devices on patients at the Canton, Mass.-based Rotenberg Educational Center, a facility that treats patients with severe developmental, emotional and behavioral disabilities, is unethical and expressed frustration that the FDA has not banned the practice.

"They get shocked from 12 to 34 times a day for not taking off their jacket ... anything that they're not supposed to be doing. Going to the bathroom when they're not supposed to, they get shocked for it," Adapt member Chancelor Shingleton told the IndyStar. "So we're to talk to Alex Azar at his property ... the lights were on at the house. As soon as we started chanting, they turned off the lights and dogs came."

The Rotenberg Center is the only facility in the U.S. that uses the shock therapy, which is known as graduated electronic decelerator. When a patient is about to misbehave, staff administer a two-second jolt of electricity via a remote control. Though many are against the practice, parents of some patients said it has made their children less violent.

The FDA announced in April 2016 that such therapy can cause physical pain and psychological suffering, according to an Adapt news release. The regulatory agency proposed a set of regulations to ban the practice, but has yet to sign off on them.

An HHS spokesperson told the IndyStar the agency would be open to meeting with Adapt and other groups, but the protest was not acceptable.

"This morning, uninvited protesters refused to leave private property when asked by local police. They did not have a permit to protest at this private residence," the spokesperson said. "The department meets with advocacy organizations, on a multitude of topics, via the appropriate channels."

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