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The Tragic History of Surgery for Schizophrenia



Well-known member
Mar 23, 2009
A compelling article in the Journal of Medical Biography recounts the story of Bayard Holmes and Henry Cotton, two American “surgeon-psychiatrists” who believed that they could cure schizophrenia by removing parts of their patients’ intestines (and other organs).

What’s more, both men tested their treatments on their own children – with tragic results. The article is by Jonathan Davidson of Duke University.

Holmes and Cotton had a theory to justify their extreme cures: autointoxication. This was the idea that ‘insanity’ was actually a state of chronic intoxication, caused by some mind-altering substance or toxin produced inside the sufferer’s own body.

Proponents of the autointoxication theory didn’t all agree on what this natural hallucinogen was, or on where it came from. Some held that the toxin was generated by the human body’s own glands and organs, while others believed that it was produced by bacteria that had infected the host. Holmes and Cotton fell into the latter camp.

The Tragic History of Surgery for Schizophrenia - Neuroskeptic

Treatment might be far from perfect now but things could be a whole lot worse!
Last edited:


Sep 25, 2012
Planet Lunatic Asylum
Treatment might be far from perfect now but things could be a whole lot worse!
There is a terrible history of the treatment of madness - especially in the West since the Enlightenment.

i wrote to the Government Health Department recently, asking why more comprehensive psychological/social support approaches weren't being used - they replied deferring blame to local health authorities & saying that they were investing a lot into talking therapies.

Sadly i think we're looking at hundreds more years time before there is a just, humane, fair & fit for purpose treatment of the mad.
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