As a follow up to our previous post on the history of the now discarded practice of lobotomy, there’s been quite a bit of recent interest in the science and ethics of modern-day brain surgery in treating mental illness, a practice often known as ‘psychosurgery’.
BBC Radio 4 aired a one-off documentary called Brain Surgery to Cure the Mind, that discussed its history, practise and effects, including the use of ‘deep brain stimulation or DBS.
DBS involves implanting an electrode to increase or decrease activation in a certain brain area. It was pioneered for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease but early results suggest it may be useful in treating severe clinical depression. One advantage of DBS over other types of neurosurgery is that it is reversible.
An alternative type of brain surgery, used in both severe psychiatric illness and Parkinson’s disease, is to sever or remove a small area of brain thought to be involved in the causing the distress or impairment.
This latter form is particularly controversial, and the British Journal of Psychiatry has published a debate entitled ‘Should neurosurgery for mental disorder be allowed to die out?’.
A recent review of the scientific literature, based on psychiatric neurosurgery in Scotland details the evidence for the effectiveness of such treatments, what the most common forms of brain surgery involve, and the likely physical and cognitive risks.
Link to BBC ‘Brain Surgery to Cure the Mind’ (with audio).
Link to debate ‘Should neurosurgery for mental disorder be allowed to die out?’.
Link to article ‘Status of neurosurgery for mental disorder in Scotland’.