Skin Shock Therapy and IDD

CW: Skin Shock Therapy

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court concluded last Thursday in a case that began nearly 40 years ago in Attleboro that the Judge Rotenberg Center can continue to utilize electric skin shock therapy. However, its use can be challenged by state agencies on a case-by-case basis.

In a 68-page decision, the SJC ruled against lifting a 36-year-old consent decree obtained by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, which allows the center to be the only facility in the country to practice the controversial treatment.

The judgment was delivered in 1987 by Judge Ernest Rotenberg of Attleboro Probate and Family Court. It was based on misconduct by state authorities seeking to close the center. They also sought to discontinue treatment because they believed it was medically unsound and detrimental to clients.

In a unanimous decision, the high court said its ruling was narrowed to whether the consent decree should remain in effect and was not a judicial review of the therapeutic value of the electric skin shock therapy. The treatment entails the use of a device that was not in use when the lawsuit was filed in 1985. According to the judgment, it sends a two-second shock to the skin.

According to the SJC, a probate and family court judge concluded in 2016 that there was no medical consensus on the use of electric skin shock therapy. The same judge also determined that the state agencies improperly utilized their regulatory powers over the years in an attempt to force the private agency to close after legislative efforts to prohibit the treatment failed.

According to the verdict and the company’s website, JRC has been operating in Massachusetts since 1975. The organization currently has approximately 50 group homes. Locations include Attleboro, Mansfield, Norton, and Rehoboth.

While many disability advocates have long opposed the treatment, JRC clients’ families claim it is successful at preventing harmful behavior, including self-injurious behavior. Family members say that the treatment is more effective than some of the medications prescribed to their family members. In many cases JRC was the only facility willing to provide services for their family member according to testimony provided in court.

Disabled people deserve to have a good quality of life. Behavior management is often crucial for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. At the same time, everyone deserves to live with dignity and be treated with respect.


Ellement, John R. “Judge Rotenberg Center Can Continue Use of Electric Skin Shock Therapy despite State’s Disapproval, SJC Rules – The Boston Globe.” The Boston Globe, Boston Globe Media, 7 Sept. 2023,

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