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June 7, 1976

Operating on the Mind: The Psychosurgery Conflict

Author Affiliations

University of Kentucky College of Medicine Lexington


edited by Willard M. Gaylin, Joel S. Meister, and Robert C. Neville, 216 pp, $11.95, New York, Basic Books, 1976.

JAMA. 1976;235(23):2541. doi:10.1001/jama.1976.03260490057028

The specter of losing our personal identity and individual integrity through the use of a surgical technique accounts for much of the interest in this topic. The editors of this book represent various professional disciplines. In six chapters, they discuss psychosurgery as an extreme prototype of behavior modification, and they highlight a classic example of the politicization of medicine. Psychosurgery is defined as any operation designed to irreversibly injure or destroy brain tissue for the primary purpose of altering the thoughts, emotions, or behavior of a human being. An unknown number of psychosurgical procedures have been performed in this country since 1936. Apparently, the use of this technique peaked in 1949, with about 5,000 cases reported, and sharply decreased thereafter. Long-term follow-up studies are few and inconclusive. It is known that psychosurgery does not "control" behavior but results in decreased, unpleasant, and maladaptive affects. Undesirable side effects include a decrease