Nobel Prize for Lobotomy and how Rosemary Kennedy is part of this story

The history of psychiatry has never been pretty. We continue to be chemically lobotomized.

On a blog from the Toronto Sun Alan Parker takes on some of the dark history. An excerpt from the article which I quote below tells the story of perhaps the most famous victim of the procedure:

Rosemary Kennedy was 23 in 1941 when she became the 66th patient on whom Freeman and Watts performed a lobotomy.

The operation was undertaken at the request of her father, Joseph Kennedy, the bootlegging Boston millionaire and political powerhouse who founded the Kennedy dynasty.

Rosemary was said to have been considered retarded by members of her family, but that assessment has been widely disputed by subsequent analysts, including Dr. Bertram Brown, then-executive director of the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation.

Rosemary may not have been as brilliant as other members of her family, but she was a fully functioning person, kept a diary, had an active social life, attended balls, plays and operas, and was presented to both President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King George VI.

Her father sought the lobotomy to cure what he called “moodiness,” fits of irritability and rebelliousness. There also appears to be some fear on her father’s part that she might embarrass the family by becoming pregnant out of wedlock during one of her many escapes from the convent where she was being educated and “cared for.”

Well, Rosemary’s moodiness was cured. So was her ability to think coherently, speak and control her bowels.

The operation reduced her to a babbling, infantile state. She was soon shipped to a residential institution in Wisconsin where she died just four years ago. Cause of death was listed as natural causes.

Rosemary before lobotomy
Rosemary before lobotomy

He makes an emphasis in his article with the daunting line:

Now here’s what blows me away: The guy who gave the world this procedure was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

And another:

The purpose of a lobotomy is/was ostensibly to treat mental disorders ranging from schizophrenia to depression and anxiety.

From the mid-1930s through the 1950s, about 70,000 people worldwide were lobotomized. More than 40,000 of that number were in the U.S. alone.

It was literally a fad.

Someday perhaps our current system will be recognized for the barbarism that still exists. All these poisons we’ve all so readily accepted as cure also recognized by history as a fad that has lasted way too long. Treating undesirable behavior with chemical restraint and numbing, brain damaging drugs rather than getting to the root cause of trauma, toxicity, and nutritional problems which can be healed with love and attention to the body/mind/spirit as documented all over this blog.


13 thoughts on “Nobel Prize for Lobotomy and how Rosemary Kennedy is part of this story

Add yours

  1. ugh!! terribly depressing…I would not be shocked it it’s done SOMEWHERE here too…certainly some psycho surgery is still done…

    like that deep whatever it’s called “stimulation”

    brain prodding in other words.

    some people are big proponents of it…

    oh, you’re actually talking about it up there…sorry I read it in my email and didn’t see it clearly…

    that’s not lobotomy….but it’s still nasty.

  2. I see that the shrinks at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, Scotland continue to lobotomise their depressed and obsessive patients.

    Just for the record, the lead neuro-psychiatrist and psycho-surgeon are Dr Keith Matthews and Dr Muftah Sam Eljamel.

    Almost unbelievable in the 21st century!

    From the website for the Ninewells psychosurgery unit:

    Please note that since April 2006, Neurosurgery for Mental Disorder (including Vagus Nerve Stimulation) in Dundee has been part of the ‘Advanced Interventions Service’. This is a nationally-funded service providing assessment and neurosurgical treatments to patients with severe, chronic, and treatment-refractory depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

  3. Lobotomies and other forms of psycho-surgery were still being performed in the United Kingdom when I was last in hospital.

    There was (and probably still is) a specialist psycho-surgery unit attached to a mental hospital in South Wales.

    I heard one shrink repeatedly threaten a patient on my unit with a lobotomy.

    “We have done all we can for you here, Martin. Now if you don’t well, then I am going to refer you for psycho-surgery.”

    The surgery itself no longer involves the knife, the scalpel or the icepick (the latter being the favoured surgical weapon of Dr James Watt).

    Apparently the lobotomies are performed these days using radioactive rods. The skull is bored so that the rods can be driven deep into the brain matter. Proponents of psycho-surgery claim that the ionic radiation can better target the “bad brain cells” for destruction (and all the good cells as well, of course!)

    Attitudes haven’t improved in psychiatry since its birth. It remains a profoundly fascist industry. It is a relic of the Auschwitz era. Psychiatry is a rogue branch of medicine. It brings disgrace to the whole medical profession.

  4. susan,
    it basically has been done to you…ECT is equally barbaric…

    but today the chances of getting a lobotomy are about nil in this country…though I did read about it being done a lot in China…

    just don’t plan on vacationing there any time soon…

  5. There were several lobotomies done on my birth mother’s side- my understanding is two great aunts and at least one other cousin…. all done in the 50s and 60s.

    It scares me. How do I know that it won’t happen to me, or could happen to me since Ishare their genes?

  6. I am against lobotomy in any form. I just wish to inform people the reason for the Nobel prise. They had literally nothing to treat mental illness with. This was something, and it “worked” (whos definition?) a few times out of a hundred people.
    Removing peoples higher cognative brain functions is not a real cure to mental illness of course.

  7. Gianna,

    Was poking around the book store a couple of months ago….actully, looking for something to read besides mental health stuff…and, came on a book in a different section of Barnes and Noble…

    A guy wrote a book about a lobotomy he had as a kid….The family apparently was approached, and offered money to have their kid lobotomized…..Apparently, it was something that was going on at the time….Money to families for those willing to have their sons or daughters experimented on….

    This guy is now a truck driver….Didn’t find out about the family secret for quite a while….and, later decided to let the world know about it…

    The newer atypical….as you say are ‘chemical lobotomies’…I cannot, and will not read mental health blogs that ramble on and on about how they seem to be doing better now that they’ve had an ‘adjustment’ to their medicine….It’s like reading about someone insisting that the new chemical used to lobotomized seems to be doing better than the last one that does the same thing….

    I like what Dr. Breggin has to say – we don’t know much about the human brain….His honesty is refreshing!

    As far as the ‘lobotomies’….”The more things change, the more they stay the same.”



  8. It’s good to be reminded of this very dark chapter in the history of psychiatry and the amazing thing is that history is repeating itself in a slightly different form right now and it’s a lot more pervasive throughout our whole society than the practice of lobotomy ever was. Isn’t it shocking that the Nobel Prize was actually awarded for this barbarism? It just shows you how careful you have to be about procedures and treatment that wear a mantle of authenticity and “brilliance” to them. It’s so easy to get swept up and leave all common sense behind.

Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑