Lancet History of “Crank” Surgeries for Mental Diseases Includes Noteworthy Omission


In The Lancet Psychiatry, McGill University physician and medical historian Thomas Schlich provides a brief history of medical “fallacy” and surgical interventions developed by “cranks” and “charlatans” that were used to try to treat psychological problems. The article does not mention that psychosurgeries, involving the destruction of healthy brain tissue, are still being performed.

“Ovariotomy and lobotomy are the two best-documented cases of using surgery to treat mental disease, and are today textbook cases of therapeutic hubris and medical fallacy, their proponents denounced as cranks or charlatans,” writes Schlich. “The eventual introduction of the major tranquilisers in the 1950s sounded the death knell for the operative procedure. Lobotomy went down in history as an example of medical innovation gone awry, immortalised in movies, documentaries, and novels.”

The article does not mention that cingulotomies, which involve destroying tissue in the the frontal lobes, are still being carried out today, their alleged benefits extolled in Psychiatric Times and by physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University. A 1997 Discover article and 2007 Tyee article discussed the ongoing use of such “lobotomies”– often using lasers instead of icepicks — at Harvard and other institutions.

Schlich, Thomas. “Cutting the Body to Cure the Mind.” The Lancet Psychiatry 2, no. 5 (n.d.): 390–92. Accessed May 7, 2015. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(15)00188-1. (Full text)

Psychosurgery—Old and New (Psychiatric Times, June 1, 2008)

PSYCHOSURGERY (Massachusetts General Hospital, accessed May 7, 2015)

Lobotomy’s Back (Discover, October 1997)

Brain Surgery ‘Frankenstein’ Tells His Story (The Tyee, May 2, 2007)

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  1. Yeah, because using a laser to destroy one’s brain is not lobotomy. ECT is back in fashion, lobotomy’s back – I’m getting anxious about my depression coming back when I read this because I could be treated in this manner.

    Seriously, there needs to be a revolution.

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