What’s the History of psychosurgery?

November 7, 2007 at 10:39 pm Leave a comment

Instruments of Destruction

Not to be confused with medical brain surgery which alleviates actual physical conditions, psychosurgery destroys healthy brain tissue and is condemned by many doctors for its crippling effect on the patient.

Psychosurgery uses various methods to destroy the brain, tearing it with a scalpel, burning it with electrode implants or shredding the frontal lobes with an ice pick.

The Roots of Torture:

The roots of psychosurgery can be traced to a medieval treatment called trepanning (cutting out circular sections of the skull). Ancient doctors believed this liberated demons and bad spirits from a person.

However, modern psychosurgery can be traced to an incident in 1848 when an explosion drove an iron rod through the cheek and out the top of the head of railway worker Phineas Gage. Before the accident, Gage had been a capable foreman, a religious man with a well-balanced mind and a shrewd business sense. After the rod was removed and he recovered, Gage became fitful, irreverent, grossly profane, impatient and obstinate.

That an alteration in behavior could be achieved by damaging parts of the brain without killing a person did not go unnoticed, and in 1882 Swiss asylum superintendent Gottlieb Burckhardt became the first known psychosurgeon. He removed cerebral tissue from six patients, hoping the patient might be transformed from a disturbed to a quiet dement. Although one died and others developed epilepsy, paralysis and aphasia (loss of ability to use or understand words), Burckhardt was pleased with his now quiet patients.

So was born a new mental treatment.

On November 12, 1935, Egas Moniz, a professor of neurology in Lisbon, Portugal, performed the first lobotomy inspired by an experiment in which the frontal lobes of two chimpanzees were removed. Moniz conducted the same operation on humans, theorizing that the source of mental disorders was this part of the brain.

A 12-year follow-up study observed that Monizs patients suffered relapses, seizures and deaths. Yet this did not deter others from following in his footsteps.

Operation Ice Pick

On September 14, 1936, U.S. psychiatrist Walter J. Freeman performed his first lobotomy. Using electric shock as an anesthetic, he inserted an ice pick beneath the eye socket bone into the brain with a surgical mallet. Movement of the instrument then severed the fibers of the frontal brain lobes, causing irreversible brain damage.

Between 1946 and 1949 the lobotomies increased tenfold. Freeman himself performed or supervised approximately 3,500 procedures, producing armies of zombies. By 1948, the death rate from lobotomies was 3%. Yet Freeman toured from city to city, promoting his procedure by lecturing and publicly lobotomizing patients in theatrical fashion. The press dubbed his tour Operation Ice Pick.

Today, under the sanitized name of neurosurgery for mental disorders (NMD), psychosurgery advocates such as the Scottish Health Secretary propose that lobotomies performed by burning out the frontal lobes be used on patients without their consent. In Russia between 1997 and 1999, Dr. Sviatoslav Medvedec, director of St. Petersburgs Institute of the Human Brain, admitted to overseeing more than 100 psychosurgery operations given mainly to teenagers for drug addiction. I think the West is too cautious about neurosurgery because of the obsession with human rights… he said.

In 1999, Alexander Lusikian was admitted to the Brain Institute at St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was to receive psychosurgery to cure his drug addiction. The operation was performed without anesthesia. Four holes were drilled into his head during a four-hour operation and sections of the brain were cauterized (burned) with liquid nitrogen, causing excruciating pain. After he was released, the wounds on his scalp festered so badly that he needed to be re-hospitalized. Within a week of the psychosurgery, Lusikian was craving drugs and within two months, he had completely reverted to drugs.

FROM STARDOM TO DESPAIR
Frances Farmer
1914-1970

Upset over a string of failed relationships, Hollywood actress Frances Farmer was arrested in January 1943, after a bout of heavy drinking. Refusing to cooperate with psychiatrist Thomas H. Leonard, she was committed to an institution. For the next seven years, she was subjected to 90 insulin shock treatments and numerous bouts of electroshock. She later told of being raped by orderlies, gnawed on by rats, poisoned by tainted food, chained in padded cells, strapped in strait jackets and half drowned in ice baths. By the time of her release, she was withdrawn and terrified of people. After three years, she was up to working againsorting dirty laundry. Her career and life were ruined.

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