Frontal Lobotomy

Lobotomy is a neurosurgical procedure, a form of psychosurgery. It consists of cutting the connections to and from the prefrontal cortex, the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain. While the procedure has been controversial since its inception in 1935, it was a mainstream procedure for more than two decades, prescribed for psychiatric (and occasionally other) conditions—this despite general recognition of frequent and serious side-effects.

Half of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine of 1949 was awarded to António Egas Moniz for the “discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy in certain psychoses”. The heyday of its usage was from the early 1940s until the mid-1950s when modern neuroleptic (antipsychotic) medications were introduced. By 1951 almost 20,000 lobotomies had been performed in the United States. The decline of the procedure was gradual rather than precipitous. Most lobotomy procedures were done in the United States, where approximately 40,000 people were lobotomized.

Howard Dully during his ice-pick lobotomy, Dec. 16th, 1960.  Click here for an interview with Dully
(George Washington University Gelman Library) 

Concerns about lobotomy steadily grew. The USSR officially banned the procedure in 1950.  Doctors in the Soviet Union concluded that the procedure was “contrary to the principles of humanity” and that it turned “an insane person into an idiot.” By the 1970s, numerous countries had banned the procedure as had several US states. Other forms of psychosurgery continued to be legally practiced in controlled and regulated US centers and in Finland, Sweden, the UK, Spain, India, Belgium and the Netherlands.

In 1977 the US Congress created the National Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research to investigate allegations that psychosurgery—including lobotomy techniques—were used to control minorities and restrain individual rights. It also investigated the after-effects of surgery. The committee concluded that some extremely limited and properly performed psychosurgery could have positive effects.

By the early 1970s the practice of lobotomy had generally ceased, but some countries continued to use other forms of psychosurgery. In 2001 there were, for example, 70 operations in Belgium, about 15 in the UK and about 15 a year at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, while France had carried out operations on about 5 patients a year in the early 1980s.  (adapted from Wikipedia)

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