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Lobotomy

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In the 1940s Dr. Walter Freeman gained fame for perfecting the lobotomy, then hailed as a miracle cure for the severely mentally ill. But within a few years, lobotomy was labeled one of the most barbaric mistakes of modern medicine.

Prefrontal lobotomies were performed in the 1930s to 70s, but were especially prevalent in the late 1940s to early 50s. The procedure was popular in many countries, racking up a significant number of patients:

 In the United States, approximately 40,000 people were lobotomized. In Great Britain, 17,000 lobotomies were performed, and the three Nordic countries of Finland, Norway, and Sweden had a combined figure of approximately 9,300 lobotomies.  …In Denmark, there were 4,500 known lobotomies, mainly young women, as well as children with learning difficulties. In Japan, the majority of lobotomies were performed on children with behavior problems. The Soviet Union banned the practice in 1950 on moral grounds, and Japan and Germany soon followed suit.

Freeman believed that mental illnesses were caused by physical defects in the brain. In the spring of 1936 he came across a study conducted by Egas Moniz, a Portuguese neurologist, who took small corings from the brains of 20 patients with anxiety, depression and schizophrenia. Moniz claimed that the procedure eliminated symptoms in a third of them

Freeman built on the work of Moniz. He thought that disrupting the connections in the brain’s frontal lobes would bring patients relief from intense emotions and reset their personalities. Freeman didn’t have a license to perform surgery so he hired neurosurgeon James Watts. Later in 1936, Watts, under the direction of Freeman, performed their first lobotomy. He made incisions on the patient’s head, drilled holes through the skull, inserted a small spatula-like instrument into the brain and sliced through neural fibers connecting the frontal lobes to the thalamus.

After just a dozen operations, Freeman was ready to declare the lobotomy a success. He was confident in the procedure even if some patients relapsed (which prompted second, and sometimes third, operations). And even if there were some troubling side effects.

Edward Shorter, Medical Historian: Freeman’s definition of success is that the patients are no longer agitated. That doesn’t mean that you’re cured, that means they could be discharged from the asylum, but they were incapable of carrying on normal social life. They were usually demobilized and lacking in energy. And they were that on a permanent basis.

 Eventually Freeman sought an easier, quicker way to lobotomize patients. By 1946 he devised a new method to access the brain using simple tools—an ice pick and hammer. (The first ice pick was actually taken from Freeman’s kitchen drawer. But modifications were made over time. The tip on earlier versions occasionally broke during the procedure.)

lobotomy-instrumentAndrew Scull, Professor of Sociology: Freeman would peel back each eyelid, insert his ice pick and with a hammer tap through the brain, wiggle it about, sever the frontal lobes, withdraw it. And when the patient came to, he or she would be given dark glasses to hide the black eyes they’d been given.

 Freeman did the procedures himself, sometimes in his office. It took only a matter of minutes. He did not require an operating room and the equipment was portable, which made it convenient for travelling to mental asylums. (It was at this point that Freeman and Watts—who had grave concerns about the “ice pick” lobotomy being performed by those without formal surgical training—parted ways.)

lobotomy-eyeball

Initially Freeman’s procedure was heralded in the press as a miracle cure and correspondingly there was a rise in patients receiving lobotomies. But after the advent of antipsychotic medications and the poor outcomes noted in the first clinical trials, the procedure was recognized as barbaric and Freeman himself downgraded in the public eye to a charlatan. The history of medical fads (lobotomy being only one of them) tells us that pioneering doctors, and the medical establishment that embraces them, can fail in their duty to “Do No Harm.” That people, even those possessing medical degrees, are imperfect and can champion poor science.

According to his son, Freeman felt justified in performing lobotomies because eliminating a patient’s intense suffering (and the associated high suicide rate) outweighed the loss of intellect and personality:

Walter Freeman III, son: …suffering the demons of mental illness. And he was trying to cure them of that, and the fact that they might turn into, let’s say, fat slobs afterwards was a small price to pay for the relief from this intense mental anguish. He pointed out repeatedly a very high rate of suicide of these individuals that they can’t stand this mental pain and he was helping them.

A significant number of post-op patients were reduced to a persistent vegetative state. And for others, the operation was fatal.  A few patients were fortunate enough to have no noticeable side effects. For them, having a lobotomy appeared to bring great relief. But these patients were relatively rare.

But the patients with successful outcomes still had concerning side effects. They often lost their ambition and weren’t able to make judgments or function well socially. Most were significantly changed, never to be the same person again.


References:

Adapted from:  4thWaveNow, (2017), retrieved from; https://4thwavenow.com/2017/02/10/lobotomy-the-rise-and-fall-of-a-miracle-cure/

2008 PBS documentary, “The Lobotomist,”, retrieved from; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/lobotomist/


21 Comments

  1. watching this video it is very touching to see Freeman a Dr who has no licence carring out an operation though there was a licence DR with him. Freeman believe that mental illnesses were caused by physical defects in the brain.. He considered a lobotomy a success if the patients are no longer agitated. In my own opinion non of the procedure was successful because non of the patient were cured. some died and those who were discharged could not carry on with their social life, some became totally useless. Another disturbing part is the way he does hi procedure and the equipment he uses. He uses a kitchen utensil and he made the patient unconciouse by electric shock, some collapsed , vomiting but he did not care he turns and walk out. I see this very inhuman. the worst was he did that to a child of 4 years. It is good to see that most of the experiment, treatment and procedure that were being carried years ago are no longer done. Patients and families knows their right so Drs do not miss easily with them.

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  2. Jostel Francel Tejeda says:

    I can see where the idea of lobotomy would come from, our brain being the control center would be the number one culprit when doctors suspected an individual had some sort of mental disorder/abnormality and that removing a piece of the brain would fix the problem. But without studying the brain and obtaining concrete evidence that removing a piece of brain will remove the person’s mental disability, but there was none. Specially the removal of the frontal lobe, that controls human cognitive skills like emotions, problem solving and the biggest ones memory and language. Removing such a crucial part of the brain will definitely have lasting consequences on the individuals undergoing the lobotomy. The worst part is how brutal of a procedure it is, most were left with black bruised eyes, and ended up becoming a completely different person for having such a crucial part of their brain missing. Personally I am glad they realized how barbaric this procedure is that has very little to no medical benefits for the people undergoing lobotomy, on the other hand it actually increased people’s mortality rate

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  3. soso617 says:

    After watching and reading this article im even more confused as to why and how people believed that damaging your frontal lobe is helping in any type of way. This procedure was a death sentence and caused severe permanent mental damage. these were people that despite their mental states were still able to shower, walk, speak, ect.ect.ect on their own. after having lobotomy your pretty much a vegetable, you cant learn or process things the main part of your brain is literally dead. The doctor thought he cured the agitation but really he broke their brain. its a barbarack procedure in my eyes, too many risks and too many bad side effects for it to be considered a success. they called the pills a form of lobotomy , and it made me curious about the side effect of the pills themselves, like did it cause similar to the same side effects or did it really hepl.

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  4. In the 1940s the discovery of Lobotomy by Dr. Walt Freeman seemed to be like a great idea but cutting and inserting an ice pick into someone brain wiggling it around inside an office doesn’t seem like a very safe procedure. . Freeman considered the procedure a success simply because the patient was no longer agitated and was able to be discharged. After reviewing the article and watching the videos, knowing the way Lobotomies were performed in earlier times it is disturbing to think that many thought that cutting into someones brain would solve their issue. The sanitation of the tools used seem to be poor considering
    Freedman took tools from his kitchen drawer, poor sanitation highly increases chances of infection which can often be fatal. This procedure was not performed in an ethical manner. Patients who freedman performed the procedure on had horrific side effect and would often not be the same person again. Freeman did not have a certification or license to perform this procedure, until he hired a second person to work for him. Medical procedures have improved throughout the years luckily technology and doctors have improved their quality of work.

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  5. Hamza Benmensour says:

    After watching the videos and reading the article I am not surprised that all of this happened as we have watched several documentaries that are relates to the topic of “lobotomy.” We see doctors that are money hungry and who are trying to thrive at the expense of others by testing on them like lab rats and claiming that their ways and techniques were proven and safe. When that is not the case and instead they open peoples foreheads and claim to help them from their mental disorders which is not the case. Instead, they make these people suffer from things far worse than what they were previously suffering from and leave them off worse than from where they started. It’s sad to see that a doctors greed to rise to fame has caused so many poor sous their lives because they can not go back to normal as sensitive parts of their brains have been tampered with.

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  6. shakur202 says:

    After reading the article and watching the videos, from my understanding lobotomy is a procedure where a patients has his/her brain cut into for the sake of eliminating their mental disorder and the major supporters for it was Dr. Walter Freeman. Now I can at least understand his excitement for thinking that a lobotomy can just about save any person, however, his urge to make it the leading cure for mental illness has lead him to delusions where he can not fully perceive the side effects. To him, these side effects were necessary sacrifices to curing the patients and giving them “relief,” but if a lobotomy is going to seriously make a person’s cognitive intelligence regress, an intelligence used for the most simple to yet complex thinking, then whether these sacrifices are worth it must seriously be rethought. I can also understand why people would think it’s barbaric. After a lobotomy is performed, many patients’ personalities change too. And a change in personality is only just one of the things that need to be worried about. many patients have died of the lobotomy and while those who survived might be cured only other mental issues may arise and then they’ll have to try to reform back into society again.

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  7. Phery Tale says:

    With the brain being one of the most delicate parts of the human body, lobotomy can be said to be one of the most inhuman ways of treating patients. these patients despite all the odds of this procedure, needed a sense of relief and took the risk. First of all Dr Freeman was not a Surgeon, and from the way he performed some of these surgeries, in his office within a few minutes, shows how unethical this procedure was. A surgery is termed successful when a patient is cured of the ailment but according to Dr Freeman, turning patients into “vegetables” where they became totally dependable, was a success to him. This proves that he wanted fame. Also, He was much more interested in the fame he got from his findings that he was not ready to accept the new drug Thorazine that produced the same results without the risk of surgery. This here is an example of a situation where sometimes the urge for knowledge and fame can sometimes lead us to the wrong direction. thankfully he was relief of his duties and we now have better methods that are being use today.

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  8. TOM NGUYEN says:

    I have seen something similar in a video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StrsvKSAbT8 . This tells about the worst noble peace prize winner and it talked about Fulton removing pieces of Chimpanzee’s brains and connecting his findings to human behaviors in accidents. Yet, I find it disappointing that they considered it to be a success if the person had complications and/or problems after the surgery, as it changed the people, and yet they still find it a success. The video also mentions Moniz, as mentioned in the article too about how he helped the blood vessels appear on xrays, yet he used alcohol in a woman’s brain to help cure her problems, which I found to be disturbing how this went through. It makes me cringe thinking about the ice pick lobotomy and how it would work with people inserting a pick and picking away stuff in your body. Did they know about how it would actually affect the people? Or were they just happy that it solved the problem and didn’t care about the consequences of the surgery?

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  9. Hussein Hussein says:

    A lobotomy is cutting someone forehead open and cutting certain nerves in the brain to stop mental disorders in people. This was perfected by Dr. Walter Freeman who performed this on numerous patients throughout the U.S. He later on perfected a quicker way to do a lobotomy by using a ice pick and hammer :o. This is a cruel operation to do to someone and I don’t know how a human being can perform a damaging surgery to a person because they have a mental disorder. It is absurd using an ice pick to surgery to someone, especially one from your kitchen drawer. The Lobotomy is a sick procedure that should have never been created and it ruined countless lives of people who were seen as mentally ill. It is a relief that this practice is now rarely used ın many parts of the world. An interesting I saw in the 25 facts video was that JFK sister, Rosemary Kennedy was intellectually disabled and had a prefrontal lobotomy performed on her, which went bad leaving her incapable of speaking clearly. This is depressing because this operation destroys some people turning them into potatoes.

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  10. HANSON MEI says:

    One thing that I learned from watching the video and reading the article is that the procedure called the Lobotomize is something that was next to random because it was not studied very well before it was given to the public. Something that was very bad for the people that experienced this procedure was just not right and extremely painful. It just seems that sticking a spike up someone’s eyelid doesn’t seem to solve anything if you asked anyone in today’s world it just sounds like some medieval torturing method. It is very wrong and messed up to do that to someone because again it was not even a “cure” but supposedly a relief of pain, however the procedure was just as painful as their mental disabilities. This procedure was not a success it was another version of making someones life worse than it already is. The Lobotomize was something that was poorly developed and was not right to use on the countless amount of people that had mental disabilities.

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  11. jz255425 says:

    Lobotomy was discovered and perfected by Dr. Walt Freeman. This is a surgical operation that involves opening up the brain and working with its frontal lobes. It was termed as a “revolutionary practice,” however it was labeled one of the most barbaric mistakes, which I agree with. The thing is that Freeman’s definition of a successful lobotomy was that the patients were no longer agitated. To me, it meant that the lobotomies just dulled these people’s brains. It dulled themselves to the point that they might as well die. To my understanding was that the equipment that was used in this kind of procedure was a small hammer and an ice pick that was in Freeman’s kitchen. Along with the fact that it was done by a “certified” doctor covered up that these utensils weren’t right for a lobotomy. Since it was performed by a doctor, the government even sponsored it and it also attracted people. With all these pieces of information, it seems to me that Freeman just wanted fame. He was so focused on achieving the success that he never really thought about the mental and physical health of his patients. Why even become a doctor at all if you devoted yourself to helping people and not dulling or hurting them.

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  12. knguyen21 says:

    The videos and the facts that were shown were both extremely disturbing and inhumane to hear about this procedure, it makes me feel queasy and uneasy when I look at it and think about how dangerous this is to the person being performed on. Although there are disturbing details about this medical procedure, I do believe that, at the time, it seemed to be revolutionary when Freeman came up with the idea that mental illnesses were not just about a problem with their brain and mind, but also thought that these mental illnesses were a result of a physical defect in the brain. Even though some procedures were successful in relieving the patient of their illness, it is still extremely dangerous to the patient to stick sharp, rough objects into the eye and up to the brain and the process was also proved to only work in a few out of many, which was about one out of three in Freeman’s experiment. Despite having a mental illness, I don’t believe that it is worth it for these people to risk their lives in order to relieve their mental illness, and I also believe that it is inhumane for psychologists and doctors alike to want to perform these experiments. These experiments and theories about how mental illness is caused by physical defects in the brain is a start to a long pathway of finding a solution to the problem of physical defects, however is not the best nor most humane way of tackling this issue due to some patients still having their mental illness proving the process not have a large fraction of success. Overall, I think that the procedure of lobotomy is inhumane, it is disturbing to view, it is dangerous to the patient, and although may have been an option in the past should not be an option now

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  13. KENNY LUONG says:

    From my understanding, Lobotomies were suddenly discovered by Friedman, and then even more suddenly termed as “revolutionary” practice. From just the inspiration of a kitchen tool, medical practice was made widespread across the country. Its damaging effects were caused by the irrationality and rashness of doctors, and even more so supporters who lacked the common sense to oppose. Frankly, this is not uncommon in our society today, when we see something new, and especially advertised, we are easily persuaded to think that they are good products; that they are efficient and worth your money. I believe the same scenario occurred during this time period, people were willing to believe these new methods because they were published under a “certified” doctor who was also in fact, sponsored by the government to do research on psychological and mental disorders. So based on this, I don’t think the public is entirely for blame for allowing this kind of stuff to happen. But on the contrary, doctor Friedman was on many accounts guilty for boasting this new method, it seemed he was more devoted to the fame of a psychologist rather than the well-being of his patients.

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  14. nsujit says:

    Lobotomy is a surgical operation involving incision into prefrontal lobe of the brain, to treat mental illness. It was performed in the 1930 to 70’s but especially popular between 40 to 50’s. Walter Freeman invented this as a treatment procedure was given a Nobel Prize in 1940. The greater percentage of victim of this treatment was women and children. The results of treatment were even worse, sometimes brain hemorrhage and most of them changed significantly, never to the same person again. The procedure looked cruel and unprofessional as he just grabbed a kitchen utensil that is a small hammer and ice pick-which we had in house and poked it in back of someone’s eyes and tap on the brain lobe and separate the frontal lobe. It is done on women and kids, just because their parents thought something was wrong but also John F.Kennedy’s sister Rosemary had this procedure done. At the end of the day, the stunning thing is though this procedure did not help to resolve the illness why it was legal to practice and people involved in it were motivated by novel prize. It is sad that many people died for Freeman to stop from this crucial procedure.

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  15. av151215 says:

    Wow, Back in day when they started lobotomy’s on mentally ill patients, being electroshock and also the way there were being treated Dr Freeman believe that mental illness was related to overactive emotions, and that by cutting the brain he would cut away these feelings

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  16. Vanessa Bueno says:

    I found these videos and article very informative and made me kinda sick. To think that children went thru the process of getting this procedure done of lobotomy for hyperactivity or a women getting it done because they where going thru menopause. To think that Dr Freedman was able to preform them for so long without being questioned of such the bad side effects. The process of poking a persons brain blindly with a ice pick in a doctors office setting just doesn’t make sense to me that it would o on for so long. The picture of the women with black eyes and smiling was a bit disturbing because I think she had no idea she just cheated death.Dr Waltz no longer participating in this procedure with him showed that other doctors thought it was insane. I am so happy that Thorazine came out and made the impact it did lessening and making lobotomy a wild thing of the past. To think that he earned a noble price for this makes me think that how the individuals with mental health issues or developmental delays where seen as a problem and not as a person in the community. I think of all the doctors that stood in that room and watched him preform this and all to do nothing to question or stop him knowing that the patient they were treating most likely would not make it.

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  17. cxrojo says:

    It is unbelievable that Freeman considers the lobotomy a way to treatment people of mental illness. It is an abuse and suffering for all those people. I think that a person who have just the illness is enough to suffers. Freeman instead of help them, he makes them feel more pain and suffering. It is sad how Freeman takes advantages of those people with mental illness, because the only desire that those people have is be cured of those illness, and I think that it is the only reason of why people just come to him. It Is very sad to see how that procedure lead people, the bruised eyes and some of them lose their life in the procedure or even after the procedure. Personally, I feel thankful because even though, at this time there are not a perfect treatment for people at the hospitals or in any health center but is better than the treatment that people received years before as this video shows.

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  18. Alejandra Castillo says:

    Lobotomy was a very disturbing procedure done on people. It is crazy to think about how this random guy would think that doing this procedure was going to help cure people from their illnesses. It was disturbing to see how they would get the people to be unconscious by zapping them. Freeman just took a kitchen utensil that he had in his house and poked it in someone’s eye. It is sad to see that kids also had to go through this procedure just because their parents though something was wrong with them. But there found out that nothing was really wrong with and it was normal. Lobotomy wasn’t done on much men, the only people who had this done do them was women and children. This method of healing patients is one of the most horrible and inhumane ones in the whole history of the human. This was a crime humanity and they gave the man who invented lobotomy a novel prize.

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  19. Isabella Orozco says:

    This article and videos about the Lobotomy are really impressive. I am speechless, and with a feeling of sadness for all the people who died when they were taken to this process or who were left in worse conditions. First of all, I’m not at all in agreement with what Freeman did, I think it was a very cruel and unprofessional procedure . How was possible that a Lobotomy was practiced in children and the elderly. Secondly, I do not understand how they continued doing this method after seeing all the results, and the damage it caused to people. Seriously ? what a bad society we live in! In addition, I consider the body very grateful to not suffer even worse consequences with such a procedure. To conclude, it is good to know that with the passage of time things have improved with respect to how doctors treat this type of situation (mental illnesses), and it may not be a wonder, but at least it is not as cruel as before and does not harm the life of those who need help.

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  20. Valeria Soto says:

    Freeman in my eyes was a bad man and everyone who supported the lobotomy. First I am in shock he did lobotomy on children’s under the age of 18, including a 4 year old! The photo shown was shocking on how the eyes looked after the procedure was done. How can a parent allow that? What bothers me as well was that every patient was awake, they felt the pain, and the shock from the electricity. What I do not understand is how do you call a procedure a success if many patients died during or after the lobotomy out of the 3,500 in the twenty states Freeman worked in. It took the last patient to have a brain hermitage to take his hospital privileges away. In my opinion I do not think he should of had any hospital privileges or work in one to do anything on anyone. It amazes me how back than you could of literally took a ice pick from your own kitchen to use it on a very risky procedures. It also makes me angry out of the 4,500 procedures done in the United States most patients were women. I also found it a big surprise that John F. Kennedy sister Rosemary had this procedure done and was taken away from the public because the procedure outcome left her pretty much useless. It sad that not even her family wanted to deal with her leaving her at catholic institution as if they were ashamed she was related to the Kennedy’s. What also gets to me is that Rosemary did not ask for this procedure to be done, her father scheduled the lobotomy because in his eyes she was mentally ill. Rosemary became the way she did because of her father and at the end she had to pay for the consequence of the lobotomy that Freeman caused more than enough deaths before her procedure. It’s sad that this happened especially because she didn’t have choice even if she was of age to choose so. Lastly everyone who worked with Freeman including his son should of told Freeman about himself or if not tell someone to stop the lobotomies. Its sad and very disappointing how many died and took to die for Freeman to retire from the crucial work that was being done. I also feel who ever worked with Freeman was a crucial person and did not care about no one but themselves and Freeman. If it was a family member of there own or them I am sure things would have been different, reactions, emotions of there loves one death. Freeman needed to put a stop to all the lobotomies in the world that was done. No one deserved to die like that especially Freeman and those who worked with him knowing they had a high percentage of death.

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  21. itdacost says:

    I found the videos a bit disturbing to watch. It is unbelievable that lobotomy and electroshock were common treatments to use back than. The sad part is, Dr Freeman still considered a lobotomy a success if the patient was not agitated or aggressive, even if they had horrible side effects due to this barbaric procedure. The side effects was so bad, that pretty much cause the patient to have a wipe out on the brain till a point that the person would act like someone else. Despite the fact the patient would not get agitated, I don’t think it was necessary to poke their brain. At the end the day, the main problem of the patient would not get resolved, they would still have seizures etc. I understand that the study had to start and get explored somehow but this type of procedure just seems more like a punishment than a treatment to me. I’m so glad that treatment for mental illness has improved a lot, but still far from being perfect.

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