Lobotomies and those who've has them...

I have several questions about lobotomies, mainly because I can’t find much on the internet about the lives of patients after they recieve lobotomies other than that they were “better” or that they “died.” And, I can’t go to the library to get books because I’m living in France, and there’s no way I’ll understand a french science book.

Does one who has a lobotomy still have feelings? From what I understand, a lobotomy patient (LP) becomes calmer after having one, does that mean they can’t feel intense emotions?

If not, are they able to cary out any responsibilities? (not necessities) For instance, if they’re not going to feel guilty then will they do what someone asks? (I guess that I should also ask if they are able to function semi-normally. Meaning, would someone ever asl them to do anything, or are they just vegetables?)

Are there other side-effects from lobotmies?

If they have no emotions, do they have memories of what they felt like when something extremely good/bad happened?

I believe that’s it. If you have any other ideas, please feel free to tell me.


…I’m just going to give this baby a bump. It has potential.

No new info from me, though. Sorry. :frowning:

A survey of all patients who underwent leukotomy in England and Wales from 1942 to 1954 (Tooth et al 1961) documented 10,365 single leukotomy operations. An additional 762 patients underwent more than one operation. A follow-up study covering 9,284 of the above mentioned patients showed that 41% had recovered or were greatly improved while 28% were minimally improved, 25% showed no change, 2% had become worse and 4% had died. Not surprisingly, patients with an affective disorder showed the best prognosis with 63% recovered compared to 30% among schizophrenic patients.

Damn, lost the link.

Leukotomy is not exactly the same as the supraorbital lobotomy or prefrontal “open” lobotomy practiced in the U.S., but it’s very similar.

I’ve never had a lobotomy, but wouldn’t a lot have to do with what part of the brain was cut out and how much of it was cut out? I don’t think you can just say “a lobotomy” like there was one answer always applicable to lobotomy patients.

When you’re talking about a procedure that equates to “deliberate destruction of healthy brain tissue”, you should dismiss any and all claims for improvement if they are made by the parties weilding the knife or their cohort, and you should reserve judgement even when the claims for improvement are made by the parties whose brains were operated upon.

I mean, if an organization – any organization – began seizing people whose thinking it did not like, and did things to them that demonstratably lowered their IQ by a sizeable chunk while at the same time significantly reducing the extent to which they felt strongly about anything, how quickly would you accept the insistence of that organization that they were making these wrong-thinking people much better? How quickly would you accept the testimony of post-operative subjects that they paraded in front of you who smiled and giggled a bit and said “Hi, the doctors fixed me and I’m all better now” before toddling off to receive their treats?

The technique as practiced in the United States in the 1950s involved a sterilized tool that resembled an ice pick; it was inserted at the inner canthus juncture of the eye and through the thin bone there into the prefrontal lobe, then wriggled back and forth and removed. One doctor rather famously demonstrated the simplicity of the procedure by performing two simultaneously, one with each hand.


I hate to mimic the whimperingly politically correct amongst us who go into “How dare you say that offensive thing” mode at the drop of a hat, but frankly an OP asking how many people benefitted from this butchery is pretty fucking creepy.

AHunter3, I’m familiar with your sentiments towards much of psychiatry and psychology and, in fact, I agree with you to a large degree. But coming from his admittedly uninformed state, the OP’s was a reasonable question.

What about the cliche that post-lobotomy patients became drooling vegetables? Any truth to that?

"I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy,"with all due gratitude to the artistic genius who coined the phrase.

lobotomies did have a medical value for some patients, unfortunately the amount of damage done was not always worth the results. It did often cure problems such as siezures and other spasms.
The kind of lobotomies done to control mental patients and those that were done for epileptics and others really can’t be compared. There was a science involved primitive as it was. Procedures now target the same areas of the brain but do not do the needless damage to other areas.
Shock treatments are another therapy that was greatly misused and often used as pnishment rather than as a curative, but there is a lot of evidence to show that the treatments do work for some conditions including severe depression and bi-polar. They don’t just lay into you now with a few hundred volts and a bite block.
Modern electro-convulsive therapy is done under anesthesia and with much more precision.

Yeah, now they dose you with enough muscle relaxant that they have to breathe for you with an ambu bag 'cuz you’re too paralyzed to breathe on your own by the time they electrocute you. So you don’t shake rattle and roll in such an obvious manner.

But the people who go through it against their will are still for the most part very very unhappy about being subjected to it.
Things are not getting better. Things will be getting better only to the extent that involuntary psychiatric treatment is brought to a fucking end. Electroconvulsive therapy is still very much used as a ward punishment for unwanted behavior. The authorities who administer it are quite aware that it is experienced as unpleasant. The often-acclaimed “success rates” are, as they have always been, indistinguishable from the short-term effects of minimal brain damage, i.e, the only therapeutic effect it has is as a direct result of brain damage. Authorities who claim otherwise discount brain damage and say “we don’t know how it works” while glossing over the significant parallels between the results of minimal brain damage in general and the results of electroconvulsive “therapy”.

Be that as it <ahem> is, all we’re trying to do is bring an end to involuntary electroshock and other forms of forced treatment.

I might be drunk, but at least I’m not insane!

To say nothing of the fact that the same result can be achieved far more safely and cheaply using cable television.

AHUNTER3, I’m not terribly sure if you’re talking about me being the one who is being creepy by asking how many people benefitted from lobotomies, but I must respond if you are. The truth is that that is not my question at all. I want to know the manner in which a post lobotomy patient conducts his life afterwards(more than "better"or “the same”). I want the details of how he carries out/views certain everyday responsibilities. I’m not questioning the humanitarian aspect of any psychiatric treatment, because I myself have trouble with the possibility of ever taking a pill to treat depression, much less letting some ice pick brandishing doctor make gravy out of my brain. I know that anything that effects someone’s ability to think/reason is a very sensitive subject.

Now, I’ve read the statistics, and it seems pretty clear that everyone’s got his mind made up about his views of the humanitarian issues regarding psychological treatment, what I think is the most unknown/interesting is the actual day to day life of one of these patients (i.e. what does “better” mean?). That’s why I wrote several questions in my first post.


I hope this helps…


I think Renato M.E. Sabbatini offers a fine site about psychosurgery with some cautionary tales involving relatives of famous people.

Sorry, Gitfiddle. I bit your head off for no good or sufficient reason.

I’m in a very touchy mood about psych issues these days. Our wonderful governor vetoed a bill that would have required reporting on electroshock in New York – demographic data on who gets the volts, how many are involuntary, mortality and morbidity stats – because fucking NAMI did an end run around us and got his ear bent in their direction. Then an important court case that theoretically could have put some restrictions on involuntary outpatient commitment (“Kendra’s Law”) in NY went unanimously the wrong way – not a single justice saw anything wrong with locking up a person who is neither found incompetent nor dangerous simply because they chose to stop taking psych meds, and holding them for days. Involuntary inpatients on locked wards now have more rights in NY, at least on paper, than “chronic” / recidivist detainees who have been committed to outpatient treatment.

As I said, sorry about that. I welcome your curiosity.

Frances Farmer, one of the more famous lobotomy patients, was employed postoperatively. Not everyone subjected to lobotomy ended up a drooling vegetable unable to go potty and dress themselves, although some did and many were closer to that end of the spectrum than to where they started off at.

If your library has archival copies of Newsday, the November 25, 1990 issue of the Newsday Magazine (i.e., glossy Sunday supplement) contained an article, “Lost Lives: The Human Cost of Frontal Lobotomy, the Mental-illness ‘Cure’ that Failed” by Jamie Talan, which features stories about 6-7 psychosurgery patients with whom the author spoke at Pilgrim State Hospital on Long Island. You get a pretty good glimpse of what they are like, capacities, etc.

There’s some controversy over whether Frances Farmer was indeed subjected to a lobotomy. Her sister denied it, her friends she knew after her instituionalization denied it, and Farmer never confirmed the rumor.

If at some time you could get access to the book, “Great and desperate cures” is quite interesting http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0465027105/qid=1078594972/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/102-9935272-2039349?v=glance&s=books
The following may also be of interest to some “A case of self-inflicted Leucotomy” in British journal of Psychiatry (1987), 151, pages 855 to 857.

It details how a suicide attempt with a gun resulted in frontal lobe damage but with an improvement in the patients obsessive compulsive disorder.

There is also a good article about lobotomy in a book called Medical Blunders (Youngson, R & Schott, I. - London : Robinson, 1996. - ISBN 1-85487-259-1).

Thanks everyone…huge help…AHUNTER3, no prob…