American Experience

Season 20 Episode 2

The Lobotomist

Aired Monday 9:00 PM Jan 21, 2008 on PBS

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

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  • Thoughtful and fairly balanced, this is about a man and a medical procedure worth ruminating over.

    An overview of the career of a neurologist who refined and made common an invasive brain surgery.

    This is not an easy episode to watch, it unashamedly documents the details of Freeman's quick lobotomy procedure. And none of the answers are easy either as it's not hard to see that the effects of psychotropic drugs are sometimes very similar to the frontal lobe operation and that any medical breakthrough in the area of the brain has many grey implications.

    Generally, this installment features what is best about the "American Experience", that the individual issue at hand is greater than the sum of its parts. It is difficult to assess whether the abject suffering of the many in post-WW II mental institutions were relieved in the face of a physician who seemingly wanted to advance his own career and fame. The program's voices do a good job of showing this ambiguity.

    Ultimately, this question is not scientific, and is still in the realm of human opinion - the surgery itself (as refined by Freeman) is little different than "pithing" a frog in Biology 101, but the real results of how a patient who has undergone a procedure (or today, a drug regimen) and the family that acclimates to it are still an open question, many years after the age of lobotomy are over.