Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Best Post of April 2010: Infamous Frontal Lobotomist was once President of the American Association of Neuropathologists

The next in our Best of the Month series is from April 28, 2010:

You may be surprised to learn that the infamous Walter J. Freeman,
MD (1895-1972), America's most prolific frontal lobotomist, was once president of the American Association of Neuropathologists. The AANP website lists Dr. Freeman (pictured) as having been president of the organization in 1946.

If you want to learn more about Dr. Freeman, get hold of a PBS documentary called The Lobotomist, which explores the background of the procedure popularization during the 1940’s through the ‘60’s. The neurologist Walter J. Freeman of Washington, DC was primarily responsible for the widespread performance of this surgery in the United States by developing the 10-minute, outpatient “ice pick lobotomy”. An ice pick-like instrument was inserted beneath the eyelid and over the eyeball of a patient who was rendered temporarily unconscious by electroshock. (The photo below from 1960 depicts the procedure performed on 12-year-old Howard Dully whose stepmother complained of the child's chronic misbehavior). When the instrument hit the thin orbital plate of the frontal bone, a few taps with a mallet would allow entrance into the intracranial cavity. The ice pick was then advanced upward, after which it was swept back and forth like a windshield wiper blade. The instrument was then extracted and the procedure was repeated on the opposite side. Approximately 30,000 of these procedures were performed before the medical establishment decided that it was ill-advised.

These procedures were designed to sever the connections of the brain with the prefrontal cortex. The goal was to leave patients with a degree of abulia, but with no focal deficits.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't know what is more disturbing, the surgical procedure he developed and marketed or the fact that he served as President of the AANP. And the surgical treatment of Mr. Dully...nothing less than a crime that went unchecked, unrecogized, and unpunished. Soaring malpractice premiums? They may not be a good answer or proper solution but stories like this explain why we have arrived where we are today in the U.S.