Appendix 38 - Lobotomy

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

"I am still more frightened by the fearless power in the eyes of my fellow psychiatrists than by the powerless fear in the eyes of their patients." - R.D. Laing

Taming the Shrew

The lobotomy. Invented in Portugal, 1935, by Egos Moniz. Ironically, four years later he was shot and partially paralyzed by a victim of one of his lobotomies, and in 1955 he was beaten to death by another one of his patients who apparently didn't want his "help."[412] From the book Medical Blunders:

The greatest advocate of psychosurgery was Walter Freeman.... He performed the first American lobotomy on a sixty-three-year-old woman from Kansas.... On the operating table, she had second thoughts when she realized that her head was about to be shaved, and she would lose the curls she was proud of. Freeman assured her that her curls would be saved; this was not the case, but after the operation, as Freeman himself noted, 'She no longer cared.'[413]

Walter Freeman pioneered the trans-orbital (through the eye) lobotomy, which he literally performed with an ice pick.

In 1948 Walter Freeman performed his most famous transorbital lobotomy when he hammered his ice pick into the head of the movie star and radical political activist Frances Farmer. She rebelled all her life against every form of authority, and despite her success in Hollywood, and on Broadway, found herself [age 34] in the Western State Hospital... notorious for its dreadful conditions, institutional violence, rape, and the regular punishment of uncooperative patients....

Frances Farmer was a particular sore point, because no treatment yet devised seemed to work on her; she would not be tamed. But her openly communist sympathies, and aggression towards officialdom had offended far too many people for them to give up without 'curing' her.... After giving a brief lecture to the assembled crowd on the wonders of the ice pick lobotomy - no more complex than a shot of penicillin, no scar, amazing potential for controlling society's misfits, viz. schizophrenics, homosexuals, communists, etc. - he went to work.... Freeman had a photograph of himself performing the lobotomy on her... [which he showed] proudly to his friends.[414]

That year he was elected president of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.[415]


[412] Lapon, L. "Mass Murderers in White Coats." From Harvard to Buchenwald: A Chronology of Psychiatry and Eugenics.

[413] Youngson, RM. Medical Blunders New York: New York University Press 1999:255.

[414] Ibid.

[415] Ibid.

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