CANTON (CBS) – The mother of a severely disabled young man is suing a Canton treatment center over what she calls “torture.” As part of her lawsuit, she wants the world to see the shock therapy treatment that the State Senate has been trying to ban for years.
Andre McCollins was born with acute mental and behavioral difficulties. Andre’s mother Cheryl is suing three doctors and the Judge Rotenberg Center for negligence. The psychologists are Dr. Robert von Heyn, Dr. James Riley, and Dr. Matthew Israel. Dr. Israel, who is now 79, is the founder and is retired.
In court Wednesday, an expert witness for the family testified that the doctors stood by as Andre was shocked in 2002 at the age of 18. He says Andre was literally “scared stiff.”
Disturbing video of the treatment was shown in court. Jurors listened as Andre screamed as he was shocked, and yelled out, “No.” He was then restrained face down for hours.
“He was essentially in what we would call a catatonic condition,” says Dr. Marc Whaley. “That means a condition that happens with people that are acutely psychotically disturbed.”
Senator Brian Joyce has been working for a decade to ban the use of shock therapy there. “It’s really horrible and it’s unbelievable that it still takes place in 2012 in the United States of America,” says Senator Joyce. “To my knowledge it’s not allowed in any other state in the union.”
The Judge Rotenberg Center and its supporters say parents seek them out when other treatments, including medication, have failed.
In a statement, the center says: “JRC educates and treats the most difficult behaviorally involved students in the country and administers the GED to treat severe behavior disorders only after other treatments have failed and a court order is obtained to do so at the request of the student’s parents and doctor. The treatment plan must also be approved by a Human Rights Committee, a Peer Review Committee and a physician.”
The center estimates that thousands of patients have been through the therapy.
Joyce, with the support from the entire Senate is vowing to stop this shock therapy once and for all.
“We in government have a role and a moral obligation to defend the defenseless,” says Joyce, “and truly who is more defenseless than these innocent disabled children.”
The trial is expected to last two weeks. Then the jury will decide whether the Judge Rotenberg Center and its judges were negligent and if so whether that negligence harmed Andre.
There have been other cases against the center in the past, but they were settled out of court. Cheryl did not want to settle because she believes the case needed to be made public.
According to Senator Joyce, the center has spent $15 million over the past decade on lawyers and lobbyists. The bill to ban the shock therapy has passed in the Senate for years, but has not made it past the House.
Now Joyce and Senate President Therese Murray are calling on House members to take action. Murray released a statement Wednesday:
“Since I walked in the door to this building, I have been trying to stop these procedures and I have always supported legislation that would ban the use of aversive therapies in the Commonwealth. With Senator Joyce at the lead, the Senate has consistently advocated for the termination of these barbaric treatments for people with disabilities.This is the only facility in the nation that can practice shock therapy and this video is beyond disturbing. These therapies are inhumane and should not be allowed. The Senate has repeatedly passed legislation to stop this practice and it’s time for the entire Legislature to take action.”