FDA mulls ban on ‘torture’ in boarding schools
Gentile submits testimony at committee meeting
The federal Food and Drug Administration is considering imposing a ban on “aversive conditioning” techniques, including shock treatments, in boarding schools for developmentally disabled students, a move that won praise from Councilman Vincent Gentile, who has been speaking out against the disturbing practice for more than a decade.
Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) submitted written testimony to the FDA ahead of a Thursday meeting an agency committee is holding to discuss the practice.
Gentile said he has heard “horror stories” about developmentally disabled children being given shock treatments as a form of discipline in out-of-state boarding schools.
Approximately 120 developmentally disabled students from New York City currently attend one Massachusetts facility where such conditioning methods are used, according to Gentile.
“I have heard far too many stories of developmentally challenged students sent to special out-of-state facilities for education and care, only to be neglected or physically abused,” Gentile stated in his testimony.
“Until the late 1980’s, kids at the school were spanked with spatulas, sprayed in the face with water or forced to inhale ammonia. Nowadays, students are either subjected to starvation or painful 60-volt electric shocks that sear the skin – punishment not inflicted on serial killers, child molesters or any prison inmate,” Gentile stated.
On Thursday, the Neurological Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee of the FDA will meet to discuss the safety and effectiveness of so-called “aversive conditioning.” The committee’s function is to make recommendations to the FDA.
The FDA is considering a ban and has convened the advisory committee to seek clinical and scientific expert opinions on the risks of certain devices based on available scientific data and information.
Gentile, who served as a state senator before he was elected to the City Council in 2003, introduced legislation in Albany several years ago to mandate oversight and accountability when developmentally disabled students from New York are sent out-of-state for education and treatment.
As a councilman in 2009, Gentile sponsored “Billy’s Law,” a measure requiring the New York City Department of Education to provide the City Council with bi-annual reports monitoring all out-of-state residential facilities that house New York children for specialized educational services. The law was named after Vito “Billy” Albanese, a developmentally disabled man from Bay Ridge who suffered neglect and abuse at a New Jersey facility.
Both pieces of legislation were passed unanimously.
“For over a decade I have fought for the rights of New York’s most vulnerable and advocated for those who could not advocate for themselves,” Gentile said. “I look forward to partnering with the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Neurological Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee to ensure that no child be subjected to these cruel and unusual forms of ‘behavior modification’ that are in gross violation of the most fundamental standards of humane treatment of people with disabilities.”
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