Saturday, December 31, 2005


I happened to tune into National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" on the afternoon of November 16 as Howard Dully was beginning what has become for me the most unforgettable piece of journalism I've ever witnessed. In a story titled simply "My Lobotomy," Dully talks with family members of numerous people who underwent transorbital lobotomies--just like he did in 1960--at the hands of psychiatrist Walter Freeman.

SAVIOR OR MONSTER? Dr. Freeman was convinced the procedure, performed with an ice pick stuck through the eye sockets of his patients, was a miracle cure for many mental disabilities and behavioral problems. He lobotomized over 2,500 people in 23 states before he was stopped. While some praise Freeman's procedure, most in Dully's interviews think of the psychiatrist as an out-of-control monster. Dully, who survived the procedure with few overtly debilitating physiological impacts, has, nonetheless, has lived his life feeling damaged and scarred by the act. Dully finds his own Freeman file and weeps as he reads it aloud. He confronts his own father, who consented to the procedure to please his wife (young Howard Dully's now deceased step-mother), in a taped interview in the audio story. I have never been more unnerved and yet grateful for a story in my adult life. Listen to the story.

ANOTHER LOBOTOMY. While scrolling through a list of notable deaths in 2005, I noted the death of Rosemary Kennedy, age 86. Kennedy, sister of John F. and Robert F. Kennedy, underwent such a lobotomy at age 23. She was lobotomized at the command of her father, Joseph, because he was afraid her mild mental retardation might in some way damage the family's reputation as she grew older. Rosemary spent the rest of her life in a mental institution. Ironically, she outlived most of her siblings. Her sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, later helped found the Special Olympics movement in honor of Rosemary.

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