Posts Tagged ‘ Lobotomy ’

New issue – Bulletin of the History of Medicine


The Bulletin of the History of Medicine published its first issue of 2017 and includes at least two articles that could be of interest to H-madness readers.

Benjamin Zajicek, ‘Banning the Soviet Lobotomy: Psychiatry, Ethics, and Professional Politics during Late Stalinism’. The abstract reads:
This article examines how lobotomy came to be banned in the Soviet Union in 1950. The author finds that Soviet psychiatrists viewed lobotomy as a treatment of “last resort,” and justified its use on the grounds that it helped make patients more manageable in hospitals and allowed some to return to work. Lobotomy was challenged by psychiatrists who saw mental illness as a “whole body” process and believed that injuries caused by lobotomy were therefore more significant than changes to behavior. Between 1947 and 1949, these theoretical and ethical debates within Soviet psychiatry became politicized. Psychiatrists competing for institutional control attacked their rivals’ ideas using slogans drawn from Communist Party ideological campaigns. Party authorities intervened in psychiatry in 1949 and 1950, persecuting Jewish psychiatrists and demanding adherence to Ivan Pavlov’s theories. Psychiatrists’ existing conflict over lobotomy was adopted as part of the party’s own campaign against harmful Western influence in Soviet society.
Jennifer Lynn Lambe, ‘Revolutionizing Cuban Psychiatry: The Freud Wars, 1955–1970’. The abstract reads:
This article traces the battle over Freud within Cuban psychiatry from its pre-1959 origins through the “disappearance” of Freud by the early 1970s. It devotes particular attention to the visit of two Soviet psychiatrists to Cuba in the early 1960s as part of a broader campaign to promote Pavlov. The decade-long controversy over Freud responded to both theoretical and political concerns. If for some Freud represented political conservatism and theoretical mystification, Pavlov held out the promise of a dialectical materialist future. Meanwhile, other psychiatrists clung to psychodynamic perspectives, or at least the possibility of heterogeneity. The Freudians would end up on the losing side of this battle, with many departing Cuba over the course of the 1960s. But banishing Freud did not necessarily make for stalwart Pavlovians—or vanguard revolutionaries. Psychiatry would find itself relegated to a handmaiden position in the work of revolutionary mental engineering, with the government itself occupying the vanguard.


New book: ‘The Lobotomy Letters. The Making of American Psychosurgery’ (Mical Raz)

Dr. Walter Freeman’s photographs of lobotomy patients

A few days ago, the blog Advances in the History of Psychology pointed its readers to the work of Miriam Posner (a Mellon Postdoctoral Research Associate at Emory University) and the exceptional collection that constitutes the central object of her Yale university dissertation: Dr. Walter Freeman’s before and after photographs of lobotomy patients.

Some of these pictures are featured in a slideshow presented by the blog Science and the Arts (a project of NPR’s Science Friday) and narrated by Posner herself. Posner “argues that for Freeman the photographs served as medical evidence of the benefits of lobotomy and provided justification for his focus on external behavior rather than their mental states when evaluating surgical outcomes” (AHP).

The full slideshow can be viewed here.

Book announcement – History of Danish Lobotomy

Until recently, the history of lobotomy has been linked to psychiatry. As noted in several studies, lobotomy was frequently employed in the treatment of psychiatric patients who had been hospitalised for years. Lobotomy/leucotomy was introduced by Egas Moniz in 1935, and soon became used by psychiatrists in various countries. In Denmark lobotomies were performed on a large scale. More than 4,000 psychosurgical operations were carried out during the period 1939-1956. With a population of only 4 million Danes in the late 1940s, this is an extremely high number of lobotomies. As a comparison, approximately 20,000 lobotomies were conducted in the U.S. in the same period. However, Danish lobotomies were not only used on psychiatric patients but also on mentally handicapped people. At least 300 mentally handicapped Danes had the operation between 1947 and 1983.  These are the main results from a book written by Jesper Vaczy Krag and entitled Det hvide snit (The White Incision).

The author, Jesper Vaczy Kragh, is very interested to know if mentally handicapped were lobotomized in other countries so please do not hesitate to comment this post.

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