Thursday, July 31, 2014

The historical context of leucotomy

It is important to evaluate the historical context at the time leucotomy was developed. The medical and social concepts regarding psychiatric diseases were quite different from nowadays. The situation was desperate because there was no hope whatsoever for the patients. The treatments used caused tremendous suffering but they were the only hope to avoid being hospitalized. Induced convulsions, insulin induced coma, electroshock, were drastic. To give an idea of what it meant to be hospitalized it is worth reminding that between 1940 and 1945, 40,000 patients died in french psychiatric hospitals from the cold, from hunger, and neglect. This has been reported by Max Lafon in a book entitled “L’extermination douce” published in 1987. Psychiatric hospitals remained terribly inefficient until 1955. In a not so distant past the inhabitants of a small french town called Bron protested because the insane were buried in the same cemetery as the normal people. Max Lafon commented: even dead the insane are contagious. The french Nobel Prize winner Alexis Carrel wrote in his book “L’Homme cet inconnu” : “those who carry an ancestral past of insanity and mind weakness should not marry .… indeed eugenism demands the sacrifice of many individuals …. one should create through eugenism an hereditary biologic aristocracy ….. The problem of the huge mass of people with deficiencies is not solved …. They constitute a tremendous weight for the healthy population …. The cost of mental hospitals has become huge. A hospital dedicated to euthanasia with an appropriated gas could dispose in a cheap and human way of criminals and of the insane who committed crimes.”

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