What can the history of psychosurgery tell us about medicine today? An interview with Elliot Valenstein, author of Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery and Other Radical Treatments for Mental Illness (Basic Books, 1986).
“STAY FREE!: What brought on the backlash? How did that come about?
VALENSTEIN: Well, there were some scientists who argued that, since we now know a lot more about the brain, psychosurgery should be revisited. This was at a time when there was a lot of public concern about violence in the streets. Two doctors, Frank Ervin and Vernon Mark, had published a book called Violence and the Brain, which argued that brain abnormalities can cause violence. Word got out that the Department of Justice, which maintains federal prisons and special prisons for violent inmates, had some exchanges with the authors. There was a lot of suspicion that the Department of Justice was going to perform massive psychosurgical procedures on violent prisoners as a means of social control. So it became a big issue in some circles. I was at some neuroscience meetings that discussed the biology of aggression, and people came in and broke up the meeting and demanded time on the program.
STAY FREE!: Was there any truth to the rumors that lobotomy was being performed in prisons? “