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Lobotomy, dark page of medicine

Lobotomy represents one of the darkest pages in history but at the same time one of those that have made people talk more about themselves.

It is certainly one of the darkest pages in the history of medicine but at the same time one of those that have made people talk more about themselves and that continue to do so today. Lobotomy means that particular neurosurgical procedure which consists in dissecting the nerve connections to and from the prefrontal cortex, the most anterior part of the frontal lobes.

Also called prefrontal leukotomy, Lobotomy is a controlled destruction of the white matter, which can lead to the simultaneous removal of gray matter, with consequences ranging from personality modification to total catatonia. A practice that has certainly tickled the imagination of many directors. Just think, for example, of films such as ‘Someone flew over the cuckoo’s nest’, or the more recent ‘Sucker Punch’ or ‘Shutter Island’ by Martin Scorsese.

If today we have no doubts and we all consider Lobotomy or lobotomization a procedure of doubtful utility and with very heavy side effects, the same thing certainly did not happen from the late nineteenth century until the first fifty years of the twentieth century, when the practice was considered necessary to cure a wide range of psychiatric disorders.

Who Invented Lobotomy?

Although many attribute the invention of lobotomization to Moniz and Freeman in the early 1930s, their work was actually based on previous research. First of all in 1880 those of the Swiss Gottlieb Burckhardt who performed some operations on the frontal lobe of several patients and on other parts of the brain. After reading his reports, the two scholars were fascinated, believing that separating the frontal lobe from the rest of the brain could eliminate strong stress and various related pathologies.
Shortly before, in London, in 1935, on the occasion of the ‘London Frontal Lobe Symposium’ (London symposium on the frontal lobes), two chimpanzees were presented to which the nervous tissues of the frontal lobes had been destroyed, before and after the operation. to the brain. An operation that greatly sedated the two animals and that led Portuguese neuropsychiatry António Egas Moniz to perform the first prefrontal leukotomy in humans in the same year.
The surgery was considered a real success because it reduced the patient’s anxiety and paranoid disorders. In two years the operation was repeated on 40 other patients with rather uncertain results, in many cases leading to a change in personality, a lack of motivation and initiative. Despite this, however, lobotomization soon became an increasingly used method.
What Moniz did was then developed by American neurologists Walter Freeman and James Watts. Even in their cases, in some of the operated patients the agitation was reduced, but in many others there was a profound modification of the emotional responses. Nonetheless, however, it continued to go on so much that in 1949 Moniz also received the Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology.

The end of the Lobotomy

Over the years, however, the negative effects of lobotomization which in many cases even led to incapacity became increasingly evident, reinforcing the opposite opinions.
Until 1951 in the United States of America about 20 thousand INTERVENTIONS were carried out but the procedure was gradually abandoned with the entry into the market of antipsychotics, antidepressants and other drugs which were very effective in treating and alleviating the difficulties and sufferings of patients with mental disorder. Today is a totally abandoned practice.

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