Extreme Measures

On another list I read about this CNN blog discussing the Rotenberg Center. You can also read the transcript for the whole show. The Rotenberg segment is in the second half. Some of you may not have heard of the Judge Rotenberg Center. This from the transcript sums it up pretty well.
"Antwone Nicholson's school looks more like Disneyland than a place for kids with special needs. There are pinball machines and cartoon characters, wax figures and artwork punctuate with cornflower blues and vivid pinks. Each student has a computer, healthy food, plush quarters, heavy supervision, and constant attention.

Why then would Antwone's mother, Evelyn Nicholson, be fighting like mad to get him out of this place?

Because along with the perks at this center for troubled children come the punishments. The Judge Rotenberg Center claims to be the only one in the country using electric shock aversion therapy. They call it the Graduated Electronic Decelerator, the GED. And half their students go to school each day tethered to electrodes housed in a fanny pack"

Parents have to sign consent forms for this form of punishment, which is illegal in many states. But Antwone's New York school district is happy to spend tax dollars sending Antwone out of state for a treatment that is illegal in New York. It reminds me of extreme rendition.

The scariest thing about this is not the attitude of Matthew Israel, the executive director of the Judge Rotenberg Center and his staff. After all, you would expect them to believe in what they are doing. What really scares me is the fact that 216 children have been subject to this "treatment" with parental consent over the last 16 years and the segment suggests that many of the victims support it as well.

I recently came across another report in which barbaric treatment was justified because the outcome was highly valued. But in this case it was not about reducing unwanted behaviours, but preserving and enhancing a valuable one, the pure singing of the boy soprano, by castrating him.

For three hundred years, mainly in Italy poor families sought fame and fortune by castrating their sons.

In 17th and 18th Century Italy, about 4,000 boys were castrated each year, from the age of eight upwards, with the aim of making a fortune as opera singers and soloists with choirs in churches and royal palaces.

Most of them did not make it. But for those who did there were enormous rewards alongside the adulation of the oh so civilized opera cognoscenti who would applaud performances with cries of "Eviva il coltello" ("Long live the knife!")

In case anyone thinks I am guilty of a gross misrepresentation in making this comparison, let me state:

I am not condemning the parents; neither the poor Italians who considered that anything was better than the future that their lives held for their children, nor those parents today, who are led to believe by those who claim knowledge and expertise, that anything is better than the future that autism holds for their children.

All I am saying is that once upon a time, what are by today's standards unacceptable means, were acceptable because the end result was so highly valued. When it comes to autism we should always be wary, lest our hopes and ambitions for our children blind us to the true nature of the cost we impose upon them. And we should be especially wary of those latter day cognoscenti who applaud and encourage us to take our children down extreme paths in pursuit of a chimerical cure.

Nobody is suggesting that we take a knife to our children, of course. But how much more civilized is the chemical castration being touted by the Geiers? "Eviva il Lupron" anybody?

10 thoughts on “Extreme Measures

  1. There’s a good article about the castrati in the newest “new scientist” magazine. There were lots of the kids who died of the surgery, as you can imagine, the infection rate. Of the kids who got castrated, they usually got a huge amount of training and because they didn’t have to stop for their voices to change they could keep practicing through what would have been puberty.

    Even so, most of them were just able to live being cared for in a church, very few became “stars” the gift of singing had to be there to begin with…

    Some of the parents didn’t really want fame and fortune for their boy, so much as to not have to feed him any more, because they were poor.

    At any rate, an Englishman back then went to Italy to try to find out more about the castrati and found that no one would tell him where the surgeries were performed. They all denied that it was in their area and intimated that it was done in another region, because they WERE ASHAMED of what they were doing.

    That’s good to know, sort of. Looks like Matthew Israel and his gang are not ashamed at all.

    And the Geiers? No shame. They’ve applied for 2 patents related to the Lupron chemical castration treatment idea.

  2. Hi Camille,
    thanks for the added information. I am trying hard NOT to imagine what it must have been like. :-( It also makes me very ambivalent about the composers like Handel. Did he encourage and endorse such barbarity by writing music for castrati? I am reminded of the words of Walter Benjamin

    “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another.”

  3. Psychologists are not self-regulated. The director of JRC encourages staff members to use electroshock to quitting smoking, makes staff members watch slaughter house movies as a condition of their advancement, and is starving some of the patients who can not thrive on his radical vegetarian diet. If you want this to stop, go after the MD who is certifying the electroshock – MD’s are subject to peer review.

  4. The worst shock punishment is when staff straps a child to a board and tell her that she will be shocked randomly five times in the next hour. Here the ultimate punishment is not the shock but the hour long terror.

    However, the worst punishment is when food is withheld from a child for bad behavior. Every child’s behavior deteriorates when food is withheld so JRC becomes directly responsible for the behavior for which the child is being punished.

  5. Pingback: Ballastexistenz » Blog Archive » Extreme measures, and then some.

  6. By the way, I still recommend that anyone who wants to read about the cattle prod devices, from the perspective of someone who once prescribed them but now finds them unconscionable, I’d urge people to track down a copy of the (out of print) book I Witness: History and a Person with a Developmental Disability by Dave Hingsburger. It can take awhile to find an affordable copy, but it’s worth it. (People might try inter-library loan too.)

  7. Pingback: Autism Blog Web Design Blog: » The Judge Rotenberg Center

  8. The existence of this program is truly reprehensible.
    A real fight to shut it down has gone on for twenty years.
    I can only hope that since the House leadership has changed, Massachusetts may be successful finally.
    I believe Connie and/or the network became frightened to go up against Israel.
    He is truly unbelievable.
    The legal prcess to get the administration of the shocking device approved for each individual case is a very involved process on the basis of substituted judgement with many expensive participants and costs the Massachusetts taxpayers in much court time.
    The worst of all is the pain that is inflicted upon the disabled and neglected helpless clients.

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