The Ecology of Humans (26-13) Lobotomy


An upshot to localization as gospel was the surgical practice of lobotomy: destroying parts of the brain to relieve brain-related and mental disorders.

Swiss psychiatrist Gottlieb Burckhardt made forays into clinical brain damage in the 1890s, claiming a 50% success rate, but his colleagues gave scant credibility to his crudeness and lack of post-operative verification. One said that Burckhardt suggested that “restless patients could be pacified by scratching away the cerebral cortex.”

Lobotomies had their heyday in the 1930s to 1950s, used to “treat” a wide variety of disorders, including “moodiness” and “youthful defiance.” Often a patient’s informed consent was not obtained before the butchery.

A practice grounded in scientific ignorance meant that the results were often tragic. The Soviets were relatively quick to catch on. The USSR banned lobotomy in 1950, concluding the procedure “contrary to the principles of humanity,” noting that it turned “an insane person into an idiot.”

While concerns have been aired, lobotomies are still legal, and occasionally practiced, in the United States, Britain, and other Western countries. Lobotomy has been practiced the most in the US, with around 40,000 victims.