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Brain surgery

Most lobotomies were done on women

Our review of the literature on lobotomies in France, Switzerland and Belgium from 1935–85 reveals that the surgical procedure was alarmingly common for female patients (84% of 1,340 subjects). It is not clear whether this reflects a higher prevalence of mental illness among women at the time or their perceived inferior position in those societies, dating from the Napoleonic Code of 1804.

Pioneered by Portuguese neurologist and politician Egas Moniz, lobotomy involves surgery on the brain's prefrontal lobes. He received the Nobel prize in 1949 for the procedure.

Lobotomy is now one of the most highly criticized treatments in history, given its serious effects on the personality. Destructive techniques included classical lobotomy, irradiation with iridium-194, electrocoagulation and intra-cerebral injection of cocaine derivatives.

The treatment of children at this time was particularly deplorable, with 22 children lobotomized for psychomotor agitation to “restore the peace at home” (P. Coquet et al. Pédiatrie 13, 167–173; 1958).

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Correspondence to Louis-Marie Terrier.

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Terrier, LM., Levêque, M. & Amelot, A. Most lobotomies were done on women. Nature 548, 523 (2017).

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