December 20, 2011

SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS: When Lobotomy Was Seen As Advanced. “When used for psychiatric illness, lobotomy was once seen as a huge advance. Dr. Egas Moniz, a Portuguese neurologist who developed the procedure in the 1930s, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1949. Surgeons performed many types of lobotomies, but most involved severing nerves that ran from the frontal lobes to other parts of the brain to disrupt supposedly faulty connections that had developed in schizophrenia or depression. Lobotomies for mental illness fell out of favor in the 1960s because of the development of effective antipsychotic medications, misuse of the procedure and a growing unease among doctors with the confusion and stupor that resulted from the operation. . . . One of the ironies of Dr. Nijensohn’s story, if true, is that another method already existed for treating Perón’s pain: aggressive use of opiates like morphine. Doctors of the era, however, so feared that their cancer patients would become addicted to these drugs that they saw lobotomy as a suitable alternative. Today, our understanding of cancer pain has certainly changed. The liberal use of narcotics, accompanied by other medications to treat side effects, is seen as appropriate, not indicative of untoward behavior by patients.”

UPDATE: Reader Brad Merriman writes: “So when Moniz won the Nobel prize, was the science settled about lobotomies?”

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