Egas Moniz (1974-1955)

Dr. Moniz was a Portugese neurologist who carried out the first lobotomy surgery in 1935. Lobotomy literally means “incision of a lobe,” but it more or less involved the destruction or complete removal of the prefrontal lobes of the brain. This procedure was carried out as a last resort to treat mental disorders that didn’t respond to other treatments.

Egas Moniz performed the first lobotomy.

Although Moniz received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1949, the undesirable side effects of his surgery were soon discovered and its use declined with the rise of more popular treatments including electroconvulsive and insulin shock therapy and psychotropic drugs (Abimbola & Awolowo, 2006).

Walter J. Freeman (1895-1972)

Walter J. Freeman, one of the first Americans to perform a lobotomy.

Walter Freeman was one of the first American doctors to perform a lobotomy in 1936. Although he did not create the lobotomy, he is often referred to as the “Father of Lobotomy.” He believed that mental disturbances were a result of too many emotions in the thalamus. Thus, he felt that by severing the thalamus from the frontal lobe, a person could be cured of their disorder (McGrath, 2005).

Freeman regularly performed the transorbital lobotomy, but later came up with what he thought was a quicker, more efficient method which he called the “ice pick” lobotomy. In this 10-minute procedure, a spike was driven beneath the eyelids of both eyes before being swirled around in a circular motion. This was thought to “scramble the neural connections” (McGrath, 2005). Although the lobotomy continued to have mixed results regarding its effectiveness, Freeman was deemed a champion of the operation.

A depiction of Freeman's "ice pick" lobotomy.

Below is an overview of Freeman’s lobotomy procedure:



Abimbola, S., & Awolowo, O. (2006). The white cut: Egas Moniz, lobotomy, and the nobel prize. Student BMJ Archive, 14, 44.

McGrath, C. (2005, November 16). A lobotomy that he says didn’t touch his soul. New York Times.

ting196 (2008, January 27). Lobotomy- PBS documentary on Walter Freeman [Video File]. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0aNILW6ILk

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