February 7, 2005
St. Paul, Minn. — Say the word 'lobotomy' nowadays, and the reaction will likely be either revulsion or gallows humor. For decades the operation was widely used to in the U.S. Between 40 and 50 thousand people are believed to have had the operation.
A psychiatrist, Dr Walter Freeman developed the technique. A lobotomy involves severing parts of a patient's brain to treat mental illness. Freeman performed the operation on almost 35-hundred people, many of them during an out-patient procedure.
Minneapolis author Jack El-Hai just completed a biography of Freeman called "The Lobotomist." El-Hai told Minnesota Public Radio's Euan Kerr the lobotomy seems brutal now, but in the first half of the 20th century doctors treating mental illness had few viable options.