Are We Not Human Beings with the Rights to be Treated as Human?


(Speech delivered by Daniel Fisher at the rally in front of the Boston State House, June 2,2012)

How can residents of Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) continue to be tortured in the name of treatment in this United States, the only country with a Bill of Rights in our Constitution? Because people with disabilities and especially developmental and psychiatric disabilities are not covered by our constitution. Once we are labeled as having a developmental or psychiatric disability, we are no longer covered by the following Amendments to our Constitution:
“Amendment 4: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment 5: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment 8: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

I can relate to the victims of torture at JRC. In my 20’s I was psychiatrically hospitalized and locked in a solitary confinement room with no furniture. That was called therapeutic seclusion. I was restrained and forcibly injected with mind numbing drugs and that was called my therapeutic plan. Years later I still carry the outrage of that torture as deep wounds in my soul.

As I lay in solitary confinement, I thought of Shylock from “the Merchant of Venice.” His plea to be treated as humanely as a Christian could be paraphrased for these residents of JRC: I am a child with a disability; hath not a child with a disability hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed by the same food, hurt by the same weapons, as an unlabeled child? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you poison us do we not die?

How can children at JRC be tortured in this land of the free? Why does this happen? Because when people are labeled with disabilities, and esp. psychiatric disabilities, they are no longer under Anglo-American Law. Instead, we are under medical law, which is based on the premise that we who have been medically labeled are governed by medical law under which procedures that would be defined as cruel and unusual punishment and torture under civil law can be redefined by a doctor as therapeutic treatment under Medical Law.

I am on the board of a National Coalition of Persons Labeled with Mental Illness. We are calling for an end to all the torture in the name of treatment carried out at JRC and at all facilities for persons with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities. We call for persons with disabilities to be covered by the Bill of Rights of our Constitution just like other citizens of this great democracy. If there is no way for those of those with lived experience of being labeled mentally ill being covered by our Constitution, we need another amendment to our constitution. The bill of rights for persons labeled with mental illness and other conditions, which interfere with their capacity to enter into contracts.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion‚ÄĒbroadly speaking‚ÄĒof psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Arhg! Here we go again! Eliminate the one alternative that has worked to get children like them off of neuroleptic drugs. Show me a place like the Rotenberg center that doesn’t use shock where all the kids aren’t on neuroleptic drugs. Cant? Yeah, that’s right.

    Go ahead. Fight the Rotenberg center. And then when all these kids just get switched to neuroleptics upon your victory, you can have fun spinning in circles trying to combat that — something that you’ve had zero success in so far.

    In fact, why don’t you people at least START with stopping the neuroleptic drugging? If you cant prove competent in doing that then what gives you the right to attack less defended alternatives?

    Nothing is worse than being forced to take neuroleptic drugs, especially not a harmless little shock! At least shocks don’t cause tardive dyskenisia and diabetes!!!!!!

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  2. Your argument assumes a standard of legal equality that simply doesn’t exist in the best of the situations because it demands that both parties can be viewed equally before the law. That’s hard to do in a diverse society.
    Most people in this country are unaware that women don’t have equal rights per the Constitution in the country though it was introduced in 1972 and remained open until 1983 when it expired. The time when rights could be trusted to secure and protect our freedoms has long past, and the establishment of new rights, like the right to privacy, are only the illusion of equality intended to manipulate the public or lull them into complacency. A right shouldn’t provide partial protection for certain people in certain situations some of the time. When I speak about the Bill of Rights, I always ask the kids, “would you let me dress you? Pick out your girlfriend? I mean, I don’t even know you, and you want to blindly trust your freedom to me?” The problem is, we trust our rights and privileges to people who have nothing to lose. Their status and immunity affords them rights we can’t even imagine. If you want to insure the status of your freedom, trust it to someone who has been oppressed and subjugated. They understand its value.

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  3. It is surprising to me that respondents are seeing electroshock and neuroleptics as being the only options. How would these children fare if they were treated with dignity, compassion and respect, if they had interesting and exciting options of things to do, if they were cared for by people who loved and are concerned about their welfare and their future, if they had space to express their feeling, if they were given the opportunity to learn and trust themselves and their own innate learning and coping skills, all the things children need and deserve to grow int o healthy adulthood. Lots of adults are now using WRAP instead of invasive treatments to work themselves out of mental health difficulties. I personally have had great success sharing WRAP for Kids with a grandchild. Others are reporting similar results. Let’s treat them well and give them self agency. Let’s let kids have their lives. What is happening in MA is unconscionable. Thanks for writing this Dan.

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  4. It’s a disgrace that this question even has to be asked. Worse that the answer is, in this world, sometimes so inobvious.

    I’ve been known to go all Merchant of Venice, myself, in response to this kind of crap.

    Things like this, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, are why we call ourselves Psychiatric Survivors.

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  5. Dan you are right. Thank you for your blog post today. Watching the video of the restrained boy being shocked repeatedly is watching torture happen under medical law as you say. His constitutional rights are being violated. Any child that is shocked is being harmed. It is physical and emotional abuse and those doing it should face criminal charges.

    It is an erroneus argument to say that it is a choice betwwen shocking children and giving them psych drugs. It isn’t necessary to use either to help someone as Mary Ellen Copeland also says. I can testify from many years working as a therapist with young people diagnosed with autism and every other DSM so-called disorder, that loving, and receptive caring is the best way to help them.

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  6. Appreciate the comments, though I would, along with Mary Ellen Copelend and Michael Cornwall agree that the choice is not shock or neuroleptics. The major alternative is the type of respectful, empowering relationships that occur in peer-run respites,WRAP, Open Dialogue, and Soteria Houses. We urgently need to transform the way we think of periods of emotional distress and see the healer within each person striving to become whole rather than view these periods as pathological symptoms of illnesses to be removed.

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  7. Thanks Dan Fischer for bringing the focus on the cruel abuses at the JRC. There are degrees in inhumane treatment, and the JRC treatment is the only current one (that I know of) that no doctor or judge would ever think to apply to terrorists or criminal (it is scary that it is deemed OK for severely disabled kids). It seems even more inhumane than any seclusion, forced drugging, or forced ECT under anesthesia (and probably than waterboarding). Speaking for myself, if I ever turn out to be out-of-control in my life, while I would prefer not to be forced-drugged, between two bad solutions, I would prefer forced drugging over the extreme methods of the JRC (the JRC claim of using aversive therapy does not reflect reality, I can think of some mild aversive therapy like spanking, which while misguided and abusive, would not deserve the label of torture).

    The JRC stuff sounds like evil science-fiction: wearing a electric backpack 24/24 which is used to remotely send you extremely electrical shocks (not just for dangerous behavior, but even for harmless child-like behavior), sometimes hundreds times a day, and doing that for years (and often increasing the voltage over the years). It seems like somebody decided to do for real the experience that Stanley Milgram only simulated, the actor-victim is replaced by a disabled kid, the electrical shocks are real, and the only reason the shocks are not made deadly is to be able to continue applying them for many years.

    While the JRC treats some kids born with major biological brain defects (due to birth accidents or other well-identified causes), it is important to note that some of the kids are put there because after years under 6 to 12 powerful drugs, they became much worse (while they were probably not initially that bad before the drugs). The JRC provides one more reason to be cautious about drugs: they can turn problematic kids into kids that are so crazy and hopeless that some parents and some judges are then OK’ing torture on them.

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  8. Yes, Dan and Mary Ellen. What you say is so true. I was lifted from an abusive and painful time in my life as a teenager in the mental health system by the kindness and caring and deep generosity of spirit of one person. He literally saved my life. Thank you for your uplifting blogs.

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  9. I think you should definitely go for TED in LA. That is the arena that really makes a difference. Boston is too small for what you have to share with the world. Good luck and break a leg, as they say in the theatre world.

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