Psychosurgery is a surgical procedure that is performed on the brain with the aim of treating mentally disordered behaviour. The term is not used in cases where there is a known organic cause of disturbed behaviour, such as when surgically removing a tumour or performing an operation to alleviate epilesy. Psychosurgery may involve destroying sections of the brain or, more commonly, severing fibres so that target areas of the brain are separated and 'functionally' removed.
The prefrontal lobotomy is a surgical procedure involving selection destruction of nerve fibres. It is performed on the frontal lobe of the brain, an area that is involved in impluse control and mood regulation. Its purpose is to alleviate some of the severe symptoms of mental illness. Initially, operations were performed on patients with affective disorders, other groups of patients included those with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and, less sucessfully, with schizophrenia. As a rule, the severity of the illness was a more important factor than the type of illness, along with consideration of how dangerous the patient was.
Moniz developed a surgical prodecure called a prefrontal leucotomy in the 1930's. This involved drilling a hole on each side of the skull and inserting an instrument that resembled an ice-pick to destroy the nerve fibres underneath. Moniz later refined his technique by designing a 'leucotome', an instrument with a retractable wire loop that could cut into the white matter of the brain and sever nerve fibres. It was hoped that cutting into nerve pathways that carried thoughts from one part of the brain to the other, would relieve patients of their distressing thoughts and behaviours.
There is no doubt that the early practice of psychosurgery was both inappropriate…