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Arts & Culture

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Lobotomist

A lobotomy patient - “The Lobotomist” is the gripping and tragic story of an ambitious doctor, the desperate families who sought his help and the medical establishment that embraced him.
The Saturday Evening Post, courtesy George Washington University Archives, Freeman-Watts Collection
A lobotomy patient - “The Lobotomist” is the gripping and tragic story of an ambitious doctor, the desperate families who sought his help and the medical establishment that embraced him.

Airs Monday, March 22, 2010 at 9:30 p.m. on KPBS TV

Patients' Stories

What was the effect of transorbital lobotomies? How did the lives of patients and their families change as a result of the procedure? Learn about three people who received transorbital lobotomies in these video interviews -- including one with a man who received a lobotomy from Walter Freeman when he was twelve. Then, read a current doctor's comments on treatment options today.

The lobotomy was hailed by The New York Times as a "surgery of the soul" and "history making," a groundbreaking medical procedure that promised hope to the most distressed families and desolate mentally ill patients. Championed by a young and ambitious neurologist named Walter J. Freeman, what began as an operation of last resort was soon being performed at some 50 state asylums, often with devastating results. Only a decade after his rise to fame, Freeman was decried as a moral monster and the lobotomy as one of the most barbaric mistakes of modern medicine.

Through interviews with medical historians, psychiatrists who worked with Freeman and the desperate families who sought his help, "The Lobotomist" tells the gripping tale of medical intervention gone awry. Campbell Scott narrates.

Watch the complete program online.

Preview: American Experience: The Lobotomist

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