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Scandal: Handicapped brain surgery for decades

Scandal: Handicapped brain surgery for decades

Psychiatry scandal: disabled people have had brain surgery for decades. The process also changed the personality structure.

A medical scandal has now become known to the general public in Denmark: For decades, people with mental disabilities have had their brain operated on involuntarily. There were numerous deaths. Even children underwent surgery, although their mental development was still ongoing. The operations continued until the 1980s and only then were banned.

Disabled operated without consent
A medical scandal is currently shaking the public in Denmark. For decades, mentally handicapped brain surgery was carried out without consent. Many people died in the process, according to a Danish historian. At the time, the procedure was called "lobotomy" and should in itself reduce the effects of disabilities. But the result was fatal, as historian Jesper Vaczy Kragh told the newspaper "Kristelig Dagbladet". Around eight percent of those affected died after the brain surgery.

With the “lobotomy” procedure, certain nerve pathways in the brain are separated. It was widely used in psychiatry in the 1950s, although there have been no studies of its actual medical benefits. With the surgical method, not only did numerous people die from the consequences of the operation, but the patient's personality also changed dramatically. As a result of the lobotomy, a personality change occurs with disruption of the drive and the emotionality. Therefore, this method was actually discarded relatively quickly. But operations in Denmark were used from 1947 to 1983. Today, no psychiatry in the world experiments with such a procedure on people.

Operations were also carried out on young children
The historian Kragh criticized particularly violently that the lobotomy was used even on children under the age of six. Because at this stage of development the children's brains are not yet fully developed and mature. Even if it was assumed at the time that such methods would be helpful, children should not have had brain surgery, even based on the knowledge available at the time.

It was not until 1983 that the Danish government banned the psychiatric surgical method. According to official figures, around 4,500 people had been operated on in Denmark by then. It was not known that disabled people also underwent such an operation. There are no official figures on how many disabled people have had brain surgery in Denmark. The historian reports that more than 300 mentally disabled people were affected. He refers to old hospital records and patient files that he had evaluated.

Total lack of human life
The chairwoman of the Danish Association for Disabled People, Sytter Kristensen, was deeply shocked. Such practices show a "total lack of respect for human life". Above all, Kristensen criticized that the operations were carried out on defenseless people. There was not even any hope of a positive result. The Danish Ministry of Health has announced that it intends to fully investigate the incidents. The Danish historian Jesper Vaczy Kragh plans to present his research in a book next week. After the research is presented, further details are expected.

The highly controversial method was not only used in Denmark. Historical research has shown that lobotomy has also been used in other countries. In Sweden, according to numerous media reports, around 4,500 people were lobotomized by 1963. Many of those affected were operated on in Sweden against their will. The method was also used in Germany until the end of the 1970s. Involuntary operations in Germany on disabled people have so far not become known. (sb, 09/26/2010)

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Photo credit: Michael Bührke / pixelio.de

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