The history of lobotomy in Sweden 1940-1963. Some aspects on the consequenses of the transformation in the practice of a neurosurgical method in psychiatry

Kenneth ÖGREN

Department of Culture and Media and Department of Psychiatry, University of Umea, 90187 Umea, Sweden
Tel. 090-7869653, Fax. 090-7867845


Background : Lobotomy in Sweden was first tried in the middle of the 40s by neurosurgeons at a neurosurgical department in Stockholm. At the end of the 40s the method was widely spread all over the country. This is regarded as a professional transformation of the practice of lobotomy.

Aim of paper : To give a description of the transformation by identifying postoperative mortality, indications for operation and to describe the clinical evaluations used preoperatively at one mental hospital. Some charateristics of the general history of lobotomy in Sweden are also desribed.

Descpritive frame : The first period of lobotomy, 1944-1946, could be described as the pioneering years when operations were performed by skilled neurosurgeons. The second period, the years of 1946 to 1951, could see a transformation of the practice of lobotomy. During these years lobotomies were performed by general surgeons all over Sweden and the operations were carried out in different small surgical departments. The third period, 1951-1961, could be defined as the phase-out-period of prefrontal lobotomy in Sweden.

Some findings of interest : The transformation of the practice of lobotomy seems to give some certain effects, not focused before in Swedish medical literature. These effects are wider indications for operation compared to the early period, a dramatic increase of the numbers of operations, and an increase of postoperative mortality, especially the first years of the second period.

Sources used in the study : Reports made by Mental State Hospitals to the National Swedish Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) and a unique archive of data on more than 700 patients from a State Mental Hospital, Umedalen.

The project has so far been supported by the scientific-board of the Museum of Medicine at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, the Kempe-foundation and the Söderström-Königska Foundation. The paper is a part of my phd-studies.


Plenary 3   (Gottlieb Burckhardt Lecture)
Wednesday, 15 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999