A surgically-induced childhood: Construction of the post-operative lobotomy

Mical RAZ
Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
razmicha AT post.tau.ac.il

Lobotomy, a surgical intervention which involves severing brain tissue with no organic evident pathology, was commonly preformed in order to treat mental illness, reaching its zenith in the United States in the 1940s. This paper will present the perceptions of members of the medical community of post-operative prefrontal lobotomy patients. It will focus on the relations between American neurologist and pioneer of psychosurgery, Walter Freeman, and his patients. It will evaluate how he perceived his patients, and what methods of training and discipline were advocated by Freeman and his colleagues. It will focus only on the post-operative situation of patients who had undergone prefrontal lobotomy, rather than transorbital, and will analyze the usage of the metaphor of childhood when referring to post-operative patients. This metaphor was used to describe the convalescence period directly following the prefrontal lobotomy, and patients were expected to undergo this period and continue on with their recovery process. The perception of lobotomized patients as being temporary children framed the manner in which the results of the lobotomy were perceived, and enabled both physicians and families to empathize with the patients. Reconstructing Freeman’s perception of his post-operative patients as children, which he also tried to instill amongst the patients’ families, is essential in understanding how the initial results of lobotomy could be interpreted in such an overwhelmingly positive manner, both by Freeman, his patients’ and their families.

Session X
Saturday, 24 June 2006, 5.10 - 5.35 pm

11th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Pavia, Italy, 2006