“If you don’t have your brain, you can never change your mind.”
Those words were said to me last night by my wife Ginger and they ignited my memories and thoughts.
In the early 1970s, under heavy pressure from me, Ted Kennedy reluctantly held Health Committee hearings to investigate the resurgence of lobotomy and newer forms of psychiatric brain mutilation or psychosurgery. Senator Kennedy favored the treatments; he thought they were scientific.
I was campaigning against a resurgence of psychosurgery throughout Europe and North America by speaking at conferences here and abroad, testifying in court and in Congress, addressing federal agencies, writing legislation for the creation of a federal Psychosurgery Commission, organizing opposition, and writing scientific articles and book chapters. It took several years out of my life.
At the Senate hearing on psychosurgery, Kennedy challenged me in a brief debate in which he asked rhetorically if I would be against heart surgery, too, because it sometimes damages the heart to improve its function, for example, by slowing down dangerous arrhythmias. I replied, in effect, “Senator Kennedy, when you damage your heart, it may affect the circulation of your blood through your bloodstream; but when you damage your brain you impair the expression of your eternal soul here on Earth.”
I must admit it was an angry remark, and it did me no good, because the New York Times struck back at me. The newspaper falsely claimed that I was against psychosurgery on religious grounds, rather than on ethical and scientific bases. My testimony had in fact been very scientific.
That night, the confrontation between Kennedy and me appeared on TV in Washington, DC. Kennedy staff expurgated it from the official transcript of the hearing. I have often wished for the original TV clip of my brief debate with the senator.
The confrontation between myself and Kennedy epitomizes the problem in psychiatry. Too many psychiatrists view the brain with no more reverence than the heart or liver. If you receive a liver transplant, you are still there; but if you receive a brain transplant, you are gone. And if you are afflicted with psychoactive drugs, you will find it more difficult to know you are there.
When we force people to take psychiatric drugs, or lie to get them to take the drugs, we are not only harming the organ of their body called the brain—we are harming their capacity to think and to feel, and to know and to express themselves. We are limiting their personality and identity, and the expression of their soul or spirit.
Drugs, shock treatment and lobotomy all make it much harder for individuals to understand and overcome their emotional problems. These injuries to the brain and its functioning make it difficult and sometimes impossible for them to make better choices in their lives. They are likely to remain stuck in one place or to get worse over time. As Ginger’s quote so aptly put it, “If you don’t have your brain, you can never change your mind.”
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.