Moniz – 1935, used a procedure called leucotomy (trepannig – boring a hole in either side of the head in the region of the frontal lobes). He injected alcohol to destroy the tissue in the frontal lobes of the brain. Later the alcohol was replaced with inserting a wire knife to cut the nerve fibers.
The end result was that some of his patients improved while others did not.
The actual term lobotomy comes from the greek words lobos which are the lobes of the brain and tomos which means to cut.
Muniz cautioned about the dangers of widespread leucotomy use. He only performed this procedure on the most severely disturbed patients where no other form of treatment was tried and proved to be successful.
The practice took off like wild fire and was abused.
According to Elliot Valenstein, Professor emeritus of psychology, from the University Michigan, the craze took off because the medical field was so desparate for cures that they would try anything and everything. There were no regulations. Much of the work was experiemental and much was bordering on criminal.
18th and 19th century insane asylums were horrendous, the patients were incarcerated and treated like animals. No treatment was given. Lobotomies were considered a relief from symptoms since the discovery that damage to the prefrontal cortex could subdue aggressive behavior.
Suddenly, lobotomies went from being a treatment to relieve symptoms to a means to control behavior. People with depression, obssessive compulsive disorder, and any kind of mental illness were subjected to lobotomization and it was not a pretty sight.
The heyday of lobotamy procedure was to become one of the darkest periods in history for the treatment of mental illness. Surgeons would often cut into the skull without even seeing what they were cutting into. Most of these lobotomies were failures, the patients either did not survive or they were severely disabled. These patients experienced flat affect (loss of all emotions) and many lapsed into a vegetative state. Despite the wide abuse, Muniz received a nobel prize for his work on lobotomies in 1949.
Though out of print, Valenstein’s book, (Basic Books, 1986), still remains the authority on the history of lobotomies.
Montrealers have a wonderful world renown neurological hospital: The Montreal Neurological Institute.