What do Gottlieb Burckhardt, Egas Moniz, and Walter Freeman have in common? Other than the fact that I had never heard of them before researching this topic, it turns out that they were all dudes who lobotomized their patients.
photo by OpenSkyMedia
A lobotomy is a brain surgery that cuts the connectors between the front bits and the back bits of the brain. European doctors started performing the procedure on mental patients in the early 20th century, along with other radical therapies for extreme mental illness and insanity. Other procedures included electroshock (or electroconvulsive) therapy, drug-induced deep sleep therapy, and more.
I am not, by any means, denouncing the entire psychiatric community for coming up with risky, damaging, and invasive radical treatments to try out on helpless mental patients. Nope. Not me. Anyway…
Gottlieb Burckhardt was a psychiatrist in the late 1800′s and he performed lobotomies on six patients with varied diagnoses. Two of the patients simply became more subdued, one died shortly after surgery, two were unaffected altogether, and one seemed to improve but then later committed suicide.
Egas Moniz was a Portuguese neurologist changed the surgery a bit – he drilled holes into the heads and injected alcohol to kill the frontal lobes. I guess that didn’t work, because he came up with a tool called a leucotome that was really just a wire loop that scrambled stuff around in the patient’s heads. This work, which took place in the mid-thirties, had better success rates than one would expect, earned Moniz the 1949 Nobel Prize for medicine.
Walter Freeman studied Moniz’s work and along with a guy named James Watts altered the practice and created their own procedure. Called the Freeman-Watts procedure, they would drill into the scalp, and then later would go in through the eye socket.
1949 was the big year for lobotomies, with more than 18608 lobotomies taking place in the United States by 1951. JFK’s sister had a lobotomy when she was 23 and she was never OK after that. Same with Tennessee Williams’ sister Rose. Other people, like Howard Dully and Alys Robi turned out just fine, but at the same time lots of people died.
That’s probably why they don’t do them anymore.