Lobotomy: The brain op described as ‘easier than curing a toothache’


ISLAMABAD, FEB 01 (ONLINE): There was a time when people with severe mental illness might be given an operation to sever connections in the brain. Lobotomy became one of the most notorious surgical procedures of the 20th Century, writes Claire Prentice, but retired neurosurgeon, Henry Marsh, who once carried out a modified version of the operation, tells her it’s wrong to divide doctors into heroes and villains.
It seems incredible today, but lobotomy was once hailed as a miracle cure, portrayed by doctors and the media as “easier than curing a toothache”.
More than 20,000 lobotomies were performed in the UK between the early 1940s and the late ’70s. They were typically carried out on patients with schizophrenia, severe depression or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – but also, in some cases, on people with learning difficulties or problems controlling aggression.
While a minority of people saw an improvement in their symptoms after lobotomy, some were left stupefied, unable to communicate, walk or feed themselves. But it took years for the medical profession to realise that the negative effects outweighed the benefits – and to see that drugs developed in the 1950s were effective and much safer.