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Walter J. Freeman: The Lobotomist

Updated on October 24, 2012

Walter J. Freeman was a young enthusiastic individual, who was eager to make an impact on the world as we know it. Even as a young adult, he was eager to get involved in the medical field and making a name for himself. He began reading books about experiments done on people with mental problems. At the age of 28, he began working at St. Elizabeth’s as a laboratory directory. According to Freeman, “the mental hospital filled him with fear, disgust, and shame.” As he worked there he felt that he needed to help and that he wanted to make an impact on the world by finding a cure for mental illness.

Overall, as I watched this video, I learned that lobotomies were performed to help cure mental illness. Walter Freeman idolized Egas Moniz, a neurologist, and used his procedure that he had done overseas, modified it, and called it a “lobotomy”. A lobotomy is when a patient was shocked until they were unconscious, then an ice pick was hammered down through each eye onto the brain. Next, the brain wiggled a little and then the frontal lobes of the brain were severed. After the procedure was done, the patients were given dark glasses in order to hide the black eyes from the lobotomy. I think that Walter Freeman was trying to do good by trying to find a cure for mental illness but wanted to find the cure right away instead of doing more research and testing on something rather than humans. I think the fact that lobotomies weren’t performed in operating rooms and that they were fast, quick, and portable was not a good idea or a way to go about the procedure. I think that his misconception that the frontal lobe was the area that dealt with mental illness was wrong. I personally believe that mental illness is genetic and that it can not be cured but it can be treated through a series of exercises, physical therapy, speech therapy, activities, etc.

Similarly, Walter Freeman believed that physical defects caused mental illness. Also, he believed that emotion came from the thalamus and that it must be detached from the frontal lobe. As he did these procedures the patients said,” they were tortured and they they didn’t want to be treated again.” At the time they were being treated with high doses of insulin, which nearly brought them to death. Also, they were being treated with metrozal which caused seizures and fractured their vertebrae. The introduction of lobotomies brought them even more pain and was torturing them. Ultimately these lobotomies resulted in patients either dying or being in a severe mental condition more than what they were in before. The amount of pain and torture that these people were going through was horrific, all at the expense of finding a cure to treat mental patients worldwide. I don’t think all of these people had to suffer just to find a cure for everyone worldwide. Everyone deserves the chance to live a life the way they want to whether they vocally say so or not. I think that the needs and wants of the patients were overlooked by their family members and that they were used as scientific experiments, as if they were some sort of animal. The things that were done to these people was barbaric and the fact that there wasn’t anyone who spoke up about this abuse at that time just infuriates me that no one could care about the needs of another human life but only care about the bigger picture of a new cure, new treatment, and a new idea.

In addition, I think that these procedures did not help the people with mental illness. I feel that these procedures harmed them greatly and even resulted in death. I feel that before the operation they were able to live some sort of life but after the operation they needed full time care and were in a vegetative state. Also, these patients loss intellect, couldn’t read, couldn’t write and had no long term memory. An example of a patient would be Rosemary Kennedy, a mental person,who became disabled after the operation and had to remain under full time care for the rest of her life. According to McCleod, he said, “he didn’t like the operation and that it didn’t make sense to him at the time.” I agree with McCleod and I think that the operation would be painful to look at and that the mental patients needed treatment but ultimately received the wrong treatment due to lack of research from the doctor and the eagerness to find a cure for mental illness.

In the end, I think that everything that Walter Freeman did was wrong. I find the fact that he did not do a lot of research about mental illness and that his assumptions lead to people being hurt and dying. The fact that he felt that physical defects alone caused mental illness was absurd and absolutely ridiculous. Also, he was eager to train others on how to perform lobotomies despite the fact that the long term effects were either death or loss of function. According to the American Medical Association, “procedures done to the brain destroy the brain and can’t help people restore to their former state.” I agree and I think that any experiment done on the brain should be thoroughly researched and planned before actually performing the experiment. In the video, Robert Whitaker mentioned that Walter Freeman didn’t value anything about humans being human. I agree with Whitaker because I feel that Freeman was relentless and so eager to make a name for himself in the world that he overlooked the fact that he was damaging and killing people by performing these lobotomies. Furthermore, his grandson, Walter Freeman III said that the personal ambition ruined him and that he didn’t like the idea that he would rather relieve the stress of financial burden of medical care rather than relieve stress of individual. In conclusion, I think that Walter Freeman was an overeager selfish greedy young man, who had his heart in the right place but overall didn’t care about the needs wants and the damage that he was doing to these people with mental illness.


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    • torrilynn profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @criticalmessage very clever haha

    • CriticalMessage profile image


      5 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Very interesting indeed...

      But you know the old saying.

      "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."


    • torrilynn profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      your welcome and yes i also believe I was a little too kind to Walter Freeman he was a wicked man

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 

      6 years ago from Cape Cod

      Thanks torrilynn for a fine article. You are too kind to Freeman. He was a monster. One of his worst acts, was his lobotomy of Rosemary Kennedy. She was the sister of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Although she was considered 'slow', her diaries reveal her to be an interesting and vibrant young woman. When she was just 23 years old, her mother and father agreed to let Freeman use his ice pick technology on her. After the procedure, life effectively ended for Rosemary. She was put away in an institution in 1941 where she spent over 60 years. She passed away from 'natural causes' in 2005.

    • torrilynn profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      thank you for your comment and i completely agree. he was a barbaric man without a conscience.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I recently read a book about an abused boy who was sent to Freeman for a lobotomy. Freeman was the worst kind of person. He had no conscience at all. As you have said, his treatments were barberic and torturous. I think he actually enjoyed giving these terrible lobotomies.

      Voted up and interesting.


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