The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and his Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental IllnessBMJ 2005; 330 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7502.1275 (Published 26 May 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:1275
- Raj Persaud, Gresham professor for public understanding of psychiatry and consultant psychiatrist1
- 1 Maudsley Hospital, London
Aside from the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, the US neurosurgeon Walter Freeman ranks as the most scorned physician of the 20th century. The operation Freeman refined and promoted, the lobotomy, still maintains a uniquely infamous position in the public mind nearly 70 years after its introduction and a quarter of a century after its disappearance.
At the Santa Marta Hospital in Lisbon on 12 November 1935 Egas Moniz and Almeida Lima began the first neurosurgical attempts to attack the frontal lobes as a psychiatric treatment. They published impressive results of their initial series of 20 leucotomies within just four months of the first operation: they claimed improvements in two thirds of the patients and complete cure in a third. This rush to publication ensured no proper follow-up beyond the first few weeks of surgery. Of course, if you read the fine print of the neurosurgeons' claims you will see that Moniz maintained that although the operation did not in fact eliminate his patients' delusions and hallucinations, it did diminish their emotional responses …