Peter Roger Breggin first came to national attention in February 1972, when Rep. Cornelius Gallagher (D-N.J.) published Breggin's massively documented analysis of the return of lobotomy and psychosurgery in the Congressional Record, following which Breggin released his research data through the Associated Press. His months of research had unearthed a tremendous upsurge in the performance of lobotomy and psychosurgery in the United States.
Psychosurgery, as defined by Breggin, is any brain surgery done with the intent to control emotions and behavior without treating any known brain disease. It almost always attacks normal brain tissue and must by its very nature destroy higher intellectual and emotional functioning. Breggin was outraged that the operation was being performed on involuntary mental patients, prisoners, and children as young as age two. He then discovered that the Federal government was sponsoring programs to research the suppression of political violence by large-scale screening and "treatment" of would-be violent dissenters by psychosurgery.
Starting late in 1971 with several thousand dollars of his own and no outside support, Breggin created one of the most successful promotional and political campaigns in recent years. In a period of under two years, the National Institute of Mental Health and the Justice Department terminated more than $1 million in research funds to the Neuro-Research Foundation of Boston. More recently the National Institutes of Health turned down an application for $1 million from psychosurgeon Vernon Mark, following a campaign led by Breggin's Center for the Study of Psychiatry.
The Justice Department's push for psychosurgery has been halted. Its Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) has terminated support of a project related to psychosurgery and the control of violence. Breggin published still another criticism of the Bureau of Prisons, which then announced it would do no psychosurgery at its planned behavior modification facility at Butner, North Carolina. The LEAA recently released a memorandum stating it too will no longer support psychosurgery in any of its grants to states.
Breggin has taken his fight to the courts. With his assistance patients are beginning to sue psychosurgeons for damages. In the first such case in history, a Louisville, Kentucky lobotomy malpractice suit was settled out of court for a substantial amount following his deposition. Following an injunction to stop psychosurgery on Michigan state hospital patients, a three judge circuit court has declared that even the most refined of these operations can no longer be performed on involuntary patients. It called the surgery dangerous and destructive of the person's emotions and intellect Breggin feels the opinion reflects a growing acceptance of his own research and viewpoint.
Peter Breggin grew up on Long Island, New York. He was graduated from Harvard College cum laude in general studies in 1958, where he was the director of the first large student volunteer program, which set a pattern for volunteer services in mental hospitals. He was the recipient of an honorary Harvard scholarship and was on the editorial board of the HARVARD CRIMSON.
He attended medical school at Case-Western Reserve in Cleveland and interned at the State University of New York, Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse. He took his first year of training at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, where he was a teaching fellow at Harvard Medical School. Then he returned to Syracuse, where he studied another two years with Thomas Szasz.
Breggin is author of two novels, The Crazy From the Sane, and After the Good War. He has recently given up most of his private practice to concentrate on writing and on his newly created Center for the Study of Psychiatry. As well as leading the fight against psychosurgery, CSP will work with individuals and groups concerned with the massive use of drugs and electroshock in prisons and hospitals, the drugging of hyperactive children, the use of behavior modification to control prisoners and school children, the threat of data banks to privacy, and the use of biologic psychiatry to explain and control political dissent and violence.
REASON interviewer Carol A. Gallo talked at length with Breggin about his battle against psychosurgery, and his views on psychiatry and human freedom.
REASON: Dr. Breggin, what are your main objections to psychosurgery?
BREGGIN: My main objections to psychosurgery are ethical, spiritual, and political as well as scientific. From a scientific point of view psychosurgery has no rationale. It is simply a mutilating or destructive intervention into what is almost always normal brain tissue for the purpose of reducing the function of the brain. In at least 99 percent of the cases that are done there's no pretense even that there is a known brain disorder, whether epilepsy or even a remote malfunction of the brain. You're simply going into the head of someone who is depressed or anxious or upset or frightened or obsessive or suffering from a phobia or perhaps from a psychosis and messing up a part of the limbic system of the brain, which is that portion of the brain which controls or expresses the highest human functions. So that the rationale must be that you want a reduction in function and from my point of view that makes no sense at all. All it can do really is shove the human being under the rug, make him a little less obvious either to himself or to others. In this sense it's much like a partial euthanasia of a living person. So from a scientific rational point of view it makes no sense.
REASON: What kind of scientific studies have been done on the effects of psychosurgery?
BREGGIN: They're virtually nonexistent. During the first wave of 50,000—that's an estimate of 50,000 lobotomies done between 1936 and 1955 in the United States alone—there were no control studies. It would have been a simple matter to have done every other person and then to have seen the effect comparatively over a period of years between the people who were done and the people who weren't done. This very simple method was never used. In the hundreds of papers that were published you see an obvious avoidance of taking an experimental approach.
It was only when follow-up studies were done on the psychosurgery patients over a period of decades later, attempting to compare what happened to them to what happened to other patients in the hospital, that it was found that the psychosurgery patients were ruined to one degree or another, depending on the degree of the cuts that were made into their heads. They had loss of abstract reasoning and loss of their emotional vitality, they had apathy, memory defects and quite often they developed epilepsy as a result of their brain disease. Some of them were described as acting as if they had been hurt or injured by the hospital, as indeed they had been. I'm fond of saying that it's a nonmedical operation, that is, a mutilation without medical justification. No more than cutting off the hand of a thief or the testicles of a sexually criminal individual would have a medical rationale. The fact that doctors do something doesn't make it either medical or scientific.
REASON: What kind of scientific rationales do psychosurgeons use?
BREGGIN: That depends a great deal on the surgeon. In the Far East where the surgery is done extensively, a man named Balasubramaniam simply calls it sedative neurosurgery—defined as that surgery which will manage people who cannot be managed in any other way. And he describes how people become quiet, calm, and fearful on surgery. His rationale would be that you want to sedate or quiet the person. However in the United States and in Britain this is not too acceptable to the public and perhaps not too acceptable to the scientific community. So you find different rationales. William Scoville, President of the International Association for Psychiatric Surgery, states that all psychosurgery performs a "blunting function" and that no matter what kind of surgery you're doing, whether you're operating on a higher level of the brain or a lower level, the surgeon is always out to reduce the "emotionality" of the person. According to this theory emotions are primitive compared to nonemotions and mental illness is caused by excess emotionality. Of course this is patently absurd from a scientific view.
Other psychosurgeons will use the rationale that a given part of the brain controls a particular problem; for example, it is said that the amygdala has a great deal to do with aggression and that if you remove the amygdala you reduce aggression. In fact, this in itself is not true. As Pavlov knew a long time ago and as all modern neurophysiologists believe, the brain is a highly integrated organ and at no time can you separate out one or another portion and say this or that portion is responsible for a particular area of human problems. Aggression, for example, develops out of the whole human experience of frustration and pain and requires the whole human brain and the whole human mind for its development. You can, however, reduce aggression, but as careful studies show, you invariably also reduce a much broader area of human functioning. So this particular rationale makes no sense at all. In fact I would go a step further and say if it ever turns out that slight malfunctions of the brain which we can't even see produce disorder in the brain, it will make even less sense to go in and destroy a part of the brain with some gross intervention such a putting in a knife, or as in most of the newer cases, putting an electrode into a particular part of the brain and destroying it.
REASON: If what you say is true, what leads the psychosurgeons to perform this type of operation?
BREGGIN: I think you have to put it into the context of psychiatric treatment. As far as I'm concerned, psychosurgery is not an aberration within psychiatric treatment, but is an ultimate expression of a certain kind of psychiatric treatment which frankly dominates the profession. Take the typical patient who's operated on today. She is a woman in her forties, maybe in her fifties, who is depressed and unhappy and sort of agitated and irritable. She may have some obsessions, she's preoccupied and upset, she isn't very good in bed and isn't satisfying her husband, and because of pressure from her husband perhaps she winds up going to a psychiatrist. Now the odds are that she will go to a psychiatrist who will give her drugs on the first interview. This is typical. Instead of establishing with this woman that she is in a personal crisis which involves taking responsibility for herself, standing up to her husband, determining for herself how she wants to live, as she gets past the child rearing years—instead of doing this, the physician gives a drug and says in effect, tone down, blunt yourself, reduce your responsiveness, reduce your emotionality, reduce in fact your ability to reason, because drugs will reduce your general functioning. And stay with it, baby. I mean that's the message of the drug.
Now if she doesn't stay with it, if she gets more upset and agitated and doesn't know what's happening to herself but knows she can't stand the home life and she's enraged at her husband and things aren't fitting into place and she's not making the kind of life she wants for herself, as she goes back to the psychiatrist he's going to increase her drugs. Maybe he'll go to a major tranquilizer or combine it with an antidepressant. And if this doesn't work finally he may put her in a hospital and give her an electroshock. Electroshock has about as much rationale behind it as psychosurgery does and, as many of the psychosurgeons are fond of saying, it may cause more damage than psychosurgery when given in repeated doses. Electroshock does nothing more than to disrupt the brain wave patterns, put you into a seizure, and leave you feeling helpless, apathetic, and obtunded for a certain number of days, during which period you may be able to get plugged back into what you're supposed to do in life.
Now if all of that fails, by the time you get to the psychosurgeon you probably don't know whether you're coming or going any more anyway. You are a woman now whose husband is tired of her, whose children have gone out of the house, who doesn't have a task in life to perform and to boot now you can't think straight and you're apathetic and your mind is full of drugs and electrical disruptions and you really aren't in a position to decide anything or to know anything because you've been put into a state of biological malfunction. But periodically you're fighting back and struggling and getting into trouble again. Psychosurgery simply makes permanent the obtunded, confused state that you were put in by all your psychiatric treatment. It makes permanent your reduced function which—in the eyes of the psychiatrist whom you've been pestering, or your husband whom you've been pestering may be a blessing. But it is seldom a blessing for the patient, as indicated by how few patients in the whole history of psychosurgery have ever written or said anything in support of it.
REASON: Are you saying that all psychosurgery patients are reduced to being vegetables after the operation?
BREGGIN: No. I'm saying that depending on the person's strength and the degree of the operation, the person's overall function is reduced. Now one of the interesting things that happens to some people when their function is reduced is that they become high. We're very familiar with the alcoholic, or just a person who's been drinking, who gets high. We're familiar with a person who has Dexedrine or even LSD or marijuana in his system. He becomes high in a manner which we feel is unrelated to reality. Instead of being happy—in the sense that there is a correspondence between his state of mind and his environment, his accomplishments, his responsibility, his free will—he is high, despite (usually) the lowered capacity to function, to take responsibility and to express himself. You can see this kind of high after almost any kind of neurosurgery, in fact, because the swelling of the brain that takes place and the other problems that surgery produces, even in well-meaning, ordinary surgery, may produce a period of high, afterwards. The psychosurgeons can indeed at times produce a permanent high like this in which you'll see a talkative, loquacious, perhaps silly individual who says he feels really great and who will often make claims that his IQ has improved and that he's thinking better than ever, but in fact as you get to know the person or as you test him you discover that in fact that person is considerably less competent and is roughly equivalent to somebody who has had too many drinks but is stuck with it for the rest of his life.
REASON: You've mentioned that most of the patients are women. What is your evidence for this, and why do you suppose it is?
BREGGIN: The evidence is strong. In England, where an accurate count was kept of the first 10,000 lobotomies, the ratio is more than three to two women. In the United States, in both the first and second wave, most of the projects report a majority of women, some as high as 80 percent. One recent project from Canada actually admitted that they had been prohibited from operating on men because of the bad reputation of lobotomy, but had been given the O.K. to operate on women. All this is in my Congressional Record report of February 24, 1972.
REASON: Why should it be women more than men?
BREGGIN: It's not specifically a lobotomy problem so much as it is a problem of psychiatry's overall attitude toward women. Phyllis Chesler covers this very thoroughly in Women and Madness. Psychiatrists, like most authoritarian men, do not respect the minds of women as much as those of men. Women are expected to be more simple-minded and more dependent, hence they are preferred subjects for any procedure that makes a person more simple-minded and dependent, whether it is hospitalization, chronic drug dosage, electroshock, or psychosurgery. The lobotomy literature is filled with references to how the husband says the wife is "better than ever" now that she has brain damage. This same literature openly boasts of making "good housewives." This is one of the reasons why the women's movement has been active in helping with the antipsychosurgery fight.
REASON: You seem to be suggesting that psycho-surgeons perform this operation not for medical reasons, but for reasons that have to do with the psychosurgeons' ideas of what a patient's role in life should be.
BREGGIN: That's always the case with psychiatry, that a medical language is used to disguise what are essentially matters of role in life or values or how human beings should live. The psychosurgeon who goes in and kicks the brain with a knife or with an electrode is not doing anything much different from the psychiatrist who says get back and do your housework, or go back to school and get good grades or do what your mother tells you. It's a question of degree and of the permanency and ultimately of the destructiveness. But the ethic of it is the general ethic of do as you are told, be controlled, be subject to control. Psychiatry is the ultimate expression of "Be the effect of what is done to you," rather than "Be a cause in your own life and take over your life, operate on the basis of free will and gain increasing responsibility for yourself."
REASON: Do you think psychosurgery should be outlawed?
BREGGIN: My position now is that if you want to contract with someone for psychosurgery that is your right and privilege. It's interesting in my own psychology, how I formerly went against my own basic libertarian view simply because I was unable to handle the anguish within me that the notion of psychosurgery created and my own outrage over it. So my reflex formerly was to outlaw the goddamn thing. My position now is still as hostile to psychosurgery as ever, but my method now would not be to outlaw it. But I am in favor of stopping all federal spending on it. That's entirely consistent with libertarianism anyhow, to stop all federal spending. That means I'm against doing it through any federal agencies or through grants from the federal government.
It also means that I believe that anyone who contracts for psychosurgery should have an honest contract. He should know what he's getting. If he is told that he's getting a reasonably safe procedure that won't destroy his IQ or blunt his emotions, and it turns out that it does, he should have recourse to sue. One of the very active things that we're doing now is helping patients and their relatives. It usually takes the relative because the patient has been so badly damaged by the surgery that he can't sue, so you get the relative to bring suit for damages against the surgeon who has performed this surgery under false pretenses.
REASON: How many operations are performed a year?
BREGGIN: We don't really know. When I first started canvassing psychosurgeons, I received several estimates from the leaders of 400-600 operations a year, and growing. In my own research I came up with about 1,000 cases over a period of a few years, and I know that was only the tip of the iceberg. I found three psychosurgery projects alone which accounted for more than 500 patients between 1966 and 1971. Then I began discovering surgeons in nearly every city that I visited, surgeons who were often unknown to the leaders themselves who had given me the original estimates of 400-600 per year. So now I give a rough guess of 500-1,000 operations a year, noting that there would have been many hundreds more each year if we hadn't intervened so early and stopped several state hospital projects with an unlimited potential to mutilate patients.
REASON: Would you outline some of the ways you've already been successful in stopping psychosurgery?
BREGGIN: The Michigan trial was an extremely good example of this. The State of Michigan set aside a quarter of a million dollars to do experimental surgery on allegedly violent mental patients; the surgery was going to be done at the prestigious Lafayette Clinic. The initial patient was just a few days away from having his brain partially destroyed when someone within the Lafayette Clinic called a lawyer who is familiar with our program against psychosurgery, and an injunction was brought to stop the psychosurgery. The three-judge panel in the Wayne County Circuit Court met to decide the case. One of the first things that happened is very interesting in regard to how much you can trust psychosurgeons. The judges interviewed the patient and had psychiatrists interview the patient and the man had to be sent home. He hadn't been violent in 18 years, although he may have been 18 years earlier.
The court then continued to meet and deal with the question of whether psychosurgery was ever legitimate on involuntary mental patients and decided first of all that psychosurgery is a dangerous and experimental procedure. The court specifically said that it reduces the patient's reasoning, it reduces creativity, produces apathy at times, and can even produce violence as we have found in some of our follow-up studies. The court then went on to say that the environment of the involuntary mental patient is extremely coercive and he can in no sense be said to be giving his consent to an operation. In order to prevent involuntary patients from being bullied into psychosurgery, they finally declared that it is unconstitutional in the State of Michigan to do psychosurgery on involuntary mental patients. In effect that it is wrong to do any dangerous and experimental procedure to people who are not in a position to give consent. I hope eventually this ruling will be extended to all forms of electroshock and eventually to all forms of drugs. The psychiatrists will find they can't do anything to their involuntary patients and pretty soon we'll take that away from them too, and following Szasz' basic principle will finally attack the heart of the matter, which is involuntary mental hospitalization.
REASON: What other kinds of methods have you used, besides going to court?
BREGGIN: Probably the best method is simply publicity, because when psychosurgery is exposed to the heat of public opinion it withers. For example, O.J. Andy, the Director of Neurosurgery at Mississippi was operating on little black kids, as young as five years old, mutilating their brains with five and six operations in order to quiet them and make them easier to manage in hospital wards. Well, we managed to create so much national publicity around this issue with Associated Press releases that went into the Mississippi area, with articles, with national magazine and radio coverage, that finally the University of Mississippi took it upon itself to examine O.J. and his work and declared it experimental and decided that he couldn't carry it on without first submitting a protocol and submitting his patients to examination by a special committee. I think he knew that what he was doing would not be acceptable to that committee—he has not gone along with those guidelines and he has not operated since last summer. So in effect we've stopped O.J. Andy from operating by national publicity.
REASON: Are psychosurgery operations on children very common?
BREGGIN: So far as we knew, the only large numbers were being done in Mississippi although it's very hard to know how many. Another concern of ours is prisoners. There were some operations that were begun on prisoners in California and we have the same feeling about that—the consent—as we do about operations on children and involuntary patients. The consent forms for operations in California read "I consent to the treatment with the understanding I will be able to get out of solitary confinement." So we worked with the Committee Against the Abuse of Psychiatry, in California, and the Medical Committee for Human Rights, and a number of other groups and we stopped psychosurgery in the California prisons and put it off in other prisons, I'm sure.
At the same time there are several states that have attempted to begin operations in the state mental hospitals, which would most surely have involved involuntary patients. And that has been stopped now where it was attempted in St. Louis, Missouri, and Oregon, and Michigan as I mentioned to you, and Virginia. Wherever we've heard about a state mental hospital we've just simply gone to the press—the radio, TV, and the local newspapers, usually working with the Citizens Commission on Human Rights and often with the Church of Scientology which is very active in these areas of fighting psychiatric oppression. We've been able to stop all state hospital operations that have come to our attention.
REASON: How about changing the federal government's role?
BREGGIN: We've put so much pressure on Ted Kennedy and on some of the liberals in Congress that all Veterans Administration operations have been stopped. In regard to the institutes themselves, like the National Institute of Health, for example, when a specific grant came up there to give $1 million to a psychosurgeon I sent follow-up studies that I had done myself on this man's patients showing he wasn't telling the truth about his patients. I just put it in a letter to each member on the Committee that would have to approve the grant, saying in effect, "If you approve this grant you're approving it with knowledge that I've sent you case material on these patients showing that these surgeons are not accurately presenting their data and that they have political motivations that involve ghetto riots, behavior control, and so on." And working there with the ad hoc committee at the National Institute of Health, we were able to stop that particular grant, and indeed we've now gotten Congress very interested.
REASON: What did you mean regarding political motivations?
BREGGIN: Psychiatry, from its very inception has always been political, in that it's involved cooperation between the government and medicine for the control of large numbers of human beings. Its roots go back to the locking up of large numbers of people in the Seventeenth Century in attempts to deal with rising urban problems. Psychiatry, with its drugs and electroshock and state mental hospitals, has almost always been aimed more at the poor than at any other group and more at urban problems than at any other set of problems. All state mental hospitals essentially are lockups for the urban centers rather than for the rural countryside. The psychosurgeons, however, have probably surpassed all other groups in their outright political demagoguery.
As early as 1967 three psychosurgeons wrote a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association saying that the ghetto riots were caused by brain dysfunction and that we must screen our population—that is, our black population—to see who was violent before they became violent, then to treat them with the necessary means which, of course, would have included psychosurgery. Now these men were, are, Frank Ervin, who's now professor at UCLA in psychiatry, William Sweet who's professor of neurosurgery at Harvard and director of neurosurgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and Vernon Mark who's the director of neurosurgery at Boston City Hospital and, like Sweet, is a professor at Harvard. These men went on and in Psychiatric Opinion wrote that brain dysfunction was at least as important as other factors in the cause of both social protesting, if you can believe that, and urban disorder.
These men then managed to get the attention of Life magazine and in 1968 in a black-shrouded cover we had pictures of Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray with a big title on the front page of this black page reading "the two accused." Below that was another big banner headline saying "The Psychobiology of Violence" and inside you find a big article about Mark, Ervin, Sweet and about Jose Delgado who has urged in a book of his that we should spend $1 billion on physical control of the mind to make a psychocivilized society out of America. The subheading of this article calls the work of Mark, Ervin, and Sweet "a potential remedy for a worried society." So these men were very political from the beginning and their politics earned them about $200,000 from the Justice Department that went directly to Dr. Ervin and over $500,000 that went from NIMH to Dr. Mark in coordinated grants. These grants brought together justice and psychiatry in a most threatening fashion which I'd predicted for 200 years from now in After the Good War.
REASON: What kinds of things did these federally-funded projects involve?
BREGGIN: They involved psychosurgery as well as screening the population to see who would be violent. It's not exaggeration when we talk about the politics of psychosurgery. It's a very serious matter. There are other, less obvious, parallels in psychiatry, for example, the drugging of hyperactive children in our city schools very prominently involves black children. Similarly, giving drug addicts in the ghetto methadone instead of heroin simply gets the government into the big business of producing palliatives that relatively suppressed people may then accept and thus participate in the government controlled economy.
The psychosurgeons, however, were a bit more gross than these others in their promotion of psychosurgery for the control of ghetto violence and that's been very important in our capacity to stop them in the Federal Government. Both liberal black Congressmen and conservative white Congressmen were able to appreciate that this was a very dangerous 1984-ish program. Incidentally, one of the few newspapers to come out and make this point was the conservative Washington Star. It said that psychosurgery for the control of violence was bringing 1984 too close and they came out against it.
REASON: Have you taken action against any psychiatric measures other than psychosurgery?
BREGGIN: Of course, we're interested in all forms of psychiatric repression, which unfortunately means almost all forms of psychiatry. We've been active politically wherever we've been able to get a handle on psychiatric oppression. One of the most interesting stories in this regard recently took place in St. Louis, Missouri, where a mental patient who felt he had been abused in drug experimentation changed his life by typing up a badge for himself that read "Doctor" on it. And armed with this badge he went around the hospital collecting research papers out of waste paper baskets and off desks and brought this immense pile of material to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights in St. Louis which is sponsored by the Church of Scientology. In examining this material the Commission found that patients were being given drugs in 500 and even 1,000 times their normal dose—for example, a drug named Prolyxin whose suggested dosage was 1 to 3 milligrams was being given in 800 milligram doses within the hospital and 1,500 milligram doses in another experiment in another area that was being controlled and administered by the hospital. The institution involved was the Missouri Psychiatric Institute.
We found very close cooperation between the Institute and the drug companies and the passage of money and favors back and forth for doing drug experiments in a manner that wasn't entirely clear. One drug experiment on humans was terminated when it was found out that the animal experiments which were still going on were producing tumors. So they hadn't even waited for the conclusion of animal experiments. In another experiment where about 20 people were given the drug and 5 had severe problems, one committed suicide, one got diabetes, one got liver damage, one got neurologic damage and the Missouri Psychiatric Institute still went on and recommended that the drug be given to people in hospitals.
Well, Fred Rock, who is the head of the Church of Scientology in St. Louis, finally managed after much struggle to get one newspaper to carry the story, but the columnist was shortly afterwards hired by the Missouri Psychiatric Institute apparently with a raise in pay. So that contact was lost. Eventually Fred got a small television station to carry the story and on that basis invited me to St. Louis and come in and comment to the public from a psychiatric point of view. In this manner we then managed to get the attention of NBC, to give a speech near the medical school, and ultimately to get in touch with and speak to several state legislators, on one occasion in an informal debate with people from the Missouri Psychiatric Institute. The result of all this work was that the Department of Mental Hygiene gave out an edict to the state hospitals not to conduct further drug experimentation and the director and assistant director of the Institute resigned. Both these men were professors at the University of Missouri Medical School. So we've gotten to the point now where the data, when brought to us, can exert considerable leverage. And the last I heard the Congress of the United States was going to be investigating this particular incident in St. Louis.
REASON: I dare say the psychosurgeons themselves have been opposing your work. Which other political activist groups have been trying to stop your attempts to halt psychosurgery?
BREGGIN: Well, you wouldn't ordinarily call them political activist groups. The groups that are political activists by the ordinary definition are all on our side. The groups which support psychosurgery are from the Establishment, almost entirely. And they're quite often what would be called the liberal establishment. This was one of the real surprises to me. When I first got into this fight I was politically naive back in late 1971 and early 1972 and I expected that all the backers for psychosurgery would be nasty conservatives—you see I was a liberal in those days, just beginning to understand that I really was a libertarian and should get my thinking straightened out. I was moving to libertarianism and was fairly close to it, in part because I'd been exposed to Tom Szasz a great deal. But I expected the liberals would come to my support and the conservatives would be our problem. It turned out that it's been very hard to muster liberal support and if anything it's the liberal establishment that backs psychosurgery as a manifestation of society with which the liberal establishment is so tight.
Bert Brown, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, is certainly a liberal, and Ted Kennedy originally did not want to get involved in the psychosurgery issue at all. It took considerable pressure before he became involved and started holding hearings which eventually were very important. Men like Humphrey have not really gotten involved in this issue at all. If you look at who is the biggest backer of psychosurgery in the Administration it turns out to have been Elliot Richardson who supported Mark, Ervin and Sweet in Massachusetts and who actually went to bat for them when he was director of HEW. Of course when the director of HEW testifies before Congress that a project is really valuable, Congress is likely to fund it. Particularly if it's an obscure and scientific-looking one like the psychosurgery. Now Richardson of course is one of the more liberal Republicans. Groups like the Hastings, New York, Institute of Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences, which is a liberal Rockefeller-funded group which feels that I'm a nasty radical, say that really what we need is better guidelines for psychosurgery.
REASON: What kind of groups are helping your fight against psychosurgery?
BREGGIN: They're really the far left and the far right and then some people in the middle who are also for freedom. One of the most important supporters against the psychosurgery movement was the Vice President of the United States at the time that David Keene was his special assistant. David is now special assistant to Senator James Buckley and Buckley has for some time been against psychosurgery. Senator J. Glenn Beall who is a conservative from Maryland has been very brave and should get the support of your readers for his own stand against psychosurgery. Beall is particularly brave since his constituency involves the members of the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland. At the same time the minority groups have been very concerned about psychosurgery. The Black Caucus in Congress led by Louis Stokes and Ron Dellums has introduced a bill to outlaw psychosurgery, and groups representing children and women have been very active since most patients being done psychosurgically at the present time are women and children.
REASON: Could you tell us a little bit more about the resistance to your work and the problems you faced in it?
BREGGIN: There are some very funny stories and some tragic stories. Probably one of the most interesting things that happened to me was at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association a year ago in Hawaii at which I spoke after a psychosurgery panel and gave a few minutes of criticism of the scientific basis for psychosurgery. And the pro-psychosurgeons attacked me so unjustly that we have now brought a libel and slander suit against one. The one that I can talk about in more detail, however, was M. Hunter Brown who had volunteered his services free of charge to the prisoners of California to do psychosurgery on them. He stood up and said that he was in correspondence with sixty prisoners in San Quentin, all of whom wanted his surgery, that they knew I was standing in the way of their getting surgery, and that they had an agreement, and he repeated this, that the sixty prisoners had an agreement that the first one out was going to "get" me.
Now this made us nervous not because we felt 60 prisoners were after me, because I work closely with prisoner groups and I get correspondence from prisoners every day who are very happy about the work we are doing. But we were afraid he might have set up one or two poor guys, so working from within the establishment I had Congressmen and Senators contact the Justice Department in California and demand an investigation. I got in touch with the FBI and demanded an investigation. As far as I can tell at the present time, M. Hunter Brown virtually made up the whole thing in order to extort from me a withdrawal from the psychosurgery campaign. I think that certainly constituted a threat against my life. And of course the libel and the slanders were surprisingly painful even though you would expect perhaps that I would be very thick-skinned by now.
REASON: Was any disciplinary action brought against this psychiatrist by the American Psychiatric Association or prison authorities?
BREGGIN: As far as I know, none whatsoever.
REASON: How have the media treated you?
BREGGIN: I have had a constant problem with the cancellation of major articles. We've had several cancellations of articles that have been written for the New York Times on request by freelance writers. The Times, being a part of the liberal establishment, is desperately afraid that I'm going to interfere with psychiatric control and medical progress. The Times has even had an editorial warning against me, not of course by name, because they don't want people to know my name, but warning against the antipsychosurgery movement on the grounds that it was going to interfere with a new hope for mankind. So we run into constant problems with the fact that so much of the media is liberally tied in to psychiatry. We've had a number of television specials on our work cancelled, but we're making enormous headway and we continue to get better and better press coverage and better and better radio and television coverage. I have no doubt that within a year the Center for the Study of Psychiatry will be a well known institution fighting for freedom in America.
REASON: How did the Center for the Study of Psychiatry get started, and who is involved with it?
BREGGIN: Well, the Center really began with the attack on psychosurgery, and I suppose the first document was my February 24, 1972 Congressional Record piece with its pages and pages of documentation informing the world that lobotomy and psychosurgery were upon us again. Now at that time I set up this as a private project of the Washington School of Psychiatry, where I was a faculty member. Since then the issues have become too broad for any psychiatric institution and we've become independent and have established ourselves as the Center for the Study of Psychiatry, Inc. The purpose of the Center is as broad as the issues we've been attacking. The heading on our newsletter reads "An independent nonprofit institute to examine the impact of psychiatry upon personal freedom, political liberty and a moral and spiritual conception of man."
The people on the board are a cross-section politically and serve to reemphasize my point that we're going to have an increasingly large number of groups sharing libertarian concerns and really learning about libertarianism by working with the antipsychiatry, antipsychosurgery efforts that we're pushing. The board includes David Keene, whom I mentioned to you earlier, who's a conservative. The group also has several civil libertarians on it, for example the national director of the American Civil Liberties Union—Chuck Morgan—is a member of our board representing himself rather than the American Civil Liberties Union. Phyllis Chesler, who is the author of Women and Madness and who is probably the most radical feminist psychologist writing today, is a member of the board.
But there are other board members who really are more within the Establishment and who really have been very concerned about the psychiatric oppression. Richard Allan is professor of law at George Washington University and he has been a great support to the work we've been doing. I also have a number of physicians on the board and three young psychiatrists who are in training or who have been trained with Thomas Szasz. One of them, O.B. Towery, I anticipate will be joining me as Associate Director sometime within the next few years as may some of the other young psychiatrists on our board. I'm already beginning to work closely with Jerry Dubin in his spare time since he at the present time is working for the Federal Government. He's a young psychiatrist who's on the board. In addition, Eli Messinger, who really is more oriented towards the left as a child psychiatrist in New York is very active in fighting psychiatric oppression. Incidentally we have three Congressmen on the board too: Louis Stokes from Cleveland, Ronald Dellums from California, and Steve Symms from Idaho. So there's a broad spectrum of people all of whom share a concern that we're moving toward a therapeutic state and that we are in danger of having psychiatry usurp more of our civil and political liberties.
Our Advisory Council includes: Nathaniel Branden, Allan C. Brownfeld, Ellen Frankfort, Nat Hentoff, Max Rafferty, Melvin M. Belli, Yvonne B. Burke, Shirley Chisholm, John Hospers, Robert D. Kephart, Arthur Koestler, Jessica Mitford, and Flo Kennedy.
REASON: Several times today you've mentioned the Church of Scientology. How did you get involved with the Church?
BREGGIN: Well I first became acquainted with the Church of Scientology quite by surprise. My first novel, which is such an attack on institutional psychiatry, was met with very little critical support or notice: I got only three write-ups of any significance. One was in Psychology Today which was slipped through by a radical who happened to do a book review—it certainly was not something Psychology Today would have wanted to review. The other two reviews were in REASON, which gave me a very strong review, and Freedom which is the newspaper of the Church of Scientology. Now at that point in my life, which was about 1970, I had not heard of REASON magazine and libertarianism, nor had I heard of Freedom or the Church of Scientology. Probably the most enriching experience I have had in my fight against psychosurgery has been the movement from the sense of being a very lonely, isolated freedom fighter to a person who has a strong identification with two very large modern movements: Scientology and libertarianism.
Most of your readers probably have not heard of Scientology or have heard only the kind of things the Establishment likes to spread about organizations which are for freedom. The Church got in touch with me once again in 1972; after I'd published in the Congressional Record, they wrote to me and asked if I had anything that I wanted to publish in Freedom. I had a short piece that had been turned down by the New York Times, so I sent it off to this unheard-of newspaper and they then published that and sent me a copy. In it they were attacking all the things that I disliked—big government, the IRS, the FDA—all the various controllers of our society including Skinner and now the psychosurgeons. Over a period of several months I gradually got to meet some of these people and discovered that behind the newspaper was an enormous international organization. For example in my own city of Washington, DC, although I didn't know they existed, they have a staff of 100 people. In Los Angeles, where Freedom is published, the Church has several staffs totalling well over 100 individuals. These are just people that work full time. Now I can't possibly explain nor do I know enough to explain fully all of what the Church is or stands for. Politically I can say that the Church is the most important international force fighting psychiatric oppression.
REASON: How did you become aware of libertarianism?
BREGGIN: Libertarianism came to me as I'm sure it does to many of us, at a time that I was moving in that direction but needed some greater clarification. Of course, I'd been exposed to the thinking of Thomas Szasz, but I don't think he ever used the word libertarian with me, or told me about a movement. Tom's not much on movements. The libertarians don't reach out the way Scientologists do, so nobody from the Libertarian Party came to me and said "You seem to be doing a good job in an important area and can we help you?" Instead I went to the libertarians. No that's not entirely true, actually—Nathaniel Branden did write to me in support of what I was doing and the editors sent me a subscription to REASON magazine. It was very important in my introduction to libertarianism, that there was an outreach from a libertarian psychologist in my direction.
REASON: Do you participate in any libertarian activities?
BREGGIN: Recently I've begun to work actively with libertarians in the Washington, DC area and I've had the delightful experience of meeting John Hospers on my last trip to the West Coast. I look forward to becoming really involved in libertarian politics more and more as time goes on.