Lobotomy (synonymous: frontal leukotomy) is a surgical procedure in the brain, in which conscious nerve fibers are severed. Lobotomy was proposed in 1935 by the Portuguese physician Egas Moniz. Moniz suggested that mental illness is caused by defective nerve fibers in the brain and is maintained. Lobotomy should destroy these compounds and allow the emergence of new, healthy fibers.

Definition of lobotomy

As a rule, lobotomy should sever the nerve fibers that connect the anterior frontal lobe with the rest of the brain. For this purpose, a thin metal rod was inserted through a hole in the skull or through the eye socket into the brain and pushed back and forth. Lobotomy was originally developed for the treatment of depression, but later used in many mental illnesses.

History of lobotomy

From today's perspective, lobotomy appears as a crude, unscientific and dangerous method. However, for the treatment of severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, lobotomy has been considered useful by many. Psychiatric hospitals were overcrowded and poorly managed, effective medications had not yet been found. Everything that promised to improve the symptoms was welcome.

A lobotomy was performed when the consequences of lobotomy were considered the lesser evil compared to the disease. Lobotomy was carried out on a grand scale by the American neurologist Walter J. Freeman, who practiced lobotomy since the 1930s and praised it as an effective treatment until his death in 1972.

In fact, Freeman published many success stories about patients who could live independently after a lobotomy. He seems to have neglected the negative consequences of lobotomy in his belief in the utility of lobotomy.

Freeman is particularly criticized for interventions that he has made against the will of patients and those in which no careful consideration of the benefits and negative consequences of the lobotomy has taken place.

Lobotomy: consequences

Systematic long-term studies on the effects of lobotomy have indeed found improvements in psychiatric symptoms: restlessness and disruptive behavior were reduced. However, the studies also systematically reported for the first time on the serious negative consequences of lobotomy. Regular symptoms include:

  • Epileptic seizures
  • movement restrictions
  • Emotional problems
  • Limitations of the mind
  • personality changes
  • apathy
  • incontinence

These lobotomy episodes even coined the disease term "post-lobotomy syndrome". Many members of lobotomy victims today demand the withdrawal of the Nobel Prize, which Egas Moniz got in 1949 for the introduction of lobotomy.

Psychosurgery: Lobotomy today

Lobotomy has become increasingly rare since the introduction of the first potent psychotropic drugs in the 1950s. In Germany, it is no longer performed since the 1970s. However, surgery on the brain as a treatment for neurological and mental illnesses are by no means a thing of the past. In severe cases of epilepsy, targeted removal of brain tissue is a recognized treatment modality, and patients with Parkinson's are now recommended to have deep brain stimulation.

This involves inserting an electrode into the brain that stimulates a specific region to alleviate Parkinson's symptoms. Deep brain stimulation is also being researched today to treat mental illnesses such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression.

Lobotomy: movie and prominent victims

The public image of lobotomy is mainly marked by the blank glances of Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" as well as more recent films like "Sucker Punch" and "Shutter Island", in which the protagonists are threatened by a lobotomy.

The case of John F. Kennedy's sister Rosemary Kennedy also made headlines. She was subjected to a lobotomy at the age of 23 at the request of her father; as a result of this lobotomy, her mental and physical health was badly damaged.

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