$7.5 Million Psychosurgery Verdict
Peter R. Breggin M.D. testified in case
On June 10, 2002, a jury unanimously found the Cleveland
Clinic negligent in causing permanent, disabling brain damage to a woman by
performing experimental psychosurgery on her without informed consent.
Psychosurgery is the destruction of normal brain tissue for the purpose of
treating psychiatric disorders or for the control of emotions and behavior.
It does not include operations, such as those for Parkinson's disease
or epilepsy, where an identifiable physical abnormality in the brain is causing
a known physical disorder.
The jury awarded $5 million for future medical expenses; $300,000
for past medical expenses; $1.1 million for pain and suffering and inability
to perform usual functions; and $1.1 million to the patient's husband for
loss of consortium. The total was $7.5 million in damages.
The patient, Mrs. Mary Lou Zimmerman, was 58 at the time of
the surgery and suffered from persistent obsessive-compulsive disorder and
depression. In a single operation she was subjected to four lesions
in her brain produced by heated electrodes inserted through her skull into
her brain tissue. The lesions, approximately one-half inch in diameter,
were placed two each in the anterior cingulum and the internal capsule of
the brain. These areas contain large fiber tracts that connect nerve
cells (neurons) throughout the brain. Damage and destruction in these
pathways leads to neuronal cell death and dysfunction in the specific areas
as well as multiple other areas throughout the brain through a process called
retrograde degeneration. As a result of the surgery and a subsequent
abscess in her brain, the patient developed dementia and became mute and emotionally
disabled. The neurosurgeon was Dr. Gene Barnett.
After the suit was brought, the Cleveland Clinic stopped performing
this kind of psychosurgery involving the outright destruction of brain tissue.
At trial, only two other existing psychosurgery projects were identified in
the United States, one at Harvard Medical School and the other at Brown University.
As a consultant and one of the medical experts in the case,
psychiatrist Peter R. Breggin, M.D. testified that the surgery was unique,
idiocyncratic, dangerous, and experimental, and should not have been performed
as a routine clinical procedure. He also testified that the patient
and her family had not been properly informed about the dangerous and experimental
nature of the surgery. He summarized the history of psychosurgery and
linked modern surgery to earlier lobotomy operations in terms of its destructive
potential. Dr. Breggin described the history of his organized reform
efforts to stop the resurgence of psychosurgery in the early 1970s in North
America and elsewhere in the world. He testified that his criticism
of psychosurgery had stopped most of the projects in the United States and
helped to establish the standard that psychosurgery is experimental and unacceptable
as a routine clinical procedure. (A history of these efforts can be
found in The War Against Children of Color
co-authored in 1998 by Peter and Ginger Breggin. Also see Dr. Breggin's
many papers and book chapters on the subject in his
Two Harvard professors who are noted advocates
of psychosurgery testified on behalf of the neurosurgeon and the Cleveland
Clinic. Their failure to sway the jury was a serious blow to the aspirations
of the few remaining psychosurgeons in the United States.