lobotomy (lōbŏtˈəmē, lə–) [key], surgical procedure for cutting nerve pathways in the frontal lobes of the brain. The operation has been performed on mentally ill patients whose behavioral patterns were not improved by other forms of treatment. The procedure as pioneered by Nobel laureate Egas Moniz in the 1930s consisted of drilling holes through the skull and severing or interfering with nerve fibers to the midbrain, particularly to the thalamus. In a later development, instruments were passed through the eye sockets to sever the connections.
Lobotomies were performed on numerous patients between 1936 and 1956. In approximately one half there was at least temporary relief of symptoms. However, some patients exhibited worse behavior after the operation, and others whose tensions were relieved by the surgery degenerated to a vegetative state. Since the mid-1950s such psychosurgery has been largely abandoned in favor of less radical means of treatment, e.g., the administration of tranquilizers and other chemical substances. Most psychiatrists today do not view lobotomy as an acceptable form of treatment.
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