By Peter Shanley and John Ruch, Gazette Staff
Local state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez is backing a controversial shock therapy that many officials are trying to ban.
Some people claim the procedure is tantamount to torture. Bill Allan, a Jamaica Plain resident and activist at the Disability Policy Consortium, said that Massachusetts is the only state in the country that uses shock therapy and said it would be illegal to apply it on dogs or horses.
But Sánchez, who has a nephew who undergoes the procedure, said without the treatment, there is no guarantee his nephew will survive and that it allows his nephew to stay in touch with others.
“I tell them torture is when they drug up children without any process. Isn’t that torture? It would be torture to let my nephew die. It would be barbaric to let him die in a pool of his own blood,” said Sánchez in a Gazette interview about a year ago.
His nephew is mentally impaired and suffers from several conditions, such as grand mal seizures. The nephew also suffers from “rumination,” a condition where you throw up in your mouth, chew it and throw it up again, which burns out his esophagus, according to Sánchez.
The nephew has also repeatedly injured himself, including putting his head through a window, biting off part of his tongue and hitting himself hard enough to detach a retina, said Sánchez.
The representative said there are no easy answers to the issue and that an oversimplification of it could kill his nephew and other patients.
“Everybody wants to dream of bright skies and open fields, and in this case, it doesn’t exist,” said Sánchez.
Shock therapy has been a controversial issue in the state as the Judge Rotenberg Center, a special needs facility in Canton, uses it for behavioral modification. JRC uses shock therapy by sending a painful current from a battery-operated device for a two-second period to a small area of the surface of the skin.
This behavior modification shock therapy is different from the shock therapy that treats depression where a seizure is induced in the patient.
There have been numerous attempts to ban shock therapy, and in 2011, Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration enacted regulations that prohibited the procedure on any new student at JRC. Legislation that would ban the procedure outright was approved in the state Senate this year, but stalled in the House.
“There’s one reason for that—Sánchez,” said Allan.
Allan, who ran against Sánchez and other candidates for the local House seat in 2002, is claiming that Sánchez is the reason why recent legislation has not been approved. Sánchez has testified with his nephew present at several hearings in favor of the procedure. Sánchez responded by saying he is only one member of 160 in the House.
“If anyone thinks one single person can stop anything, they haven’t spent much time in the [State House],” said Sánchez in a recent Gazette interview.
Asked if he would like to see the recent legislation banning shock therapy approved or defeated, Sánchez referred to previous comments he has made and declined to comment further.
Allan also mentioned an incident in 2007 where a prank phone call to JRC led to two students being shocked multiple times. That led to Matthew Israel, founder of JRC, stepping down as director of the school after it was discovered he had destroyed a videotape of the incident.
Sánchez said every institution has its problems and applauded the fact the incident did not go undiscovered.
“It’s good somebody stepped up,” said the representative.