José Manuel Rodríguez Delgado, Walter Freeman, and Psychosurgery: A Study in Contrasts

Joseph J. Fins, John S. Vernaglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


History has conflated the legacies of José Manuel Rodríguez Delgado and Walter Freeman, midcentury proponents of somatic therapies for neuropsychiatric conditions. Both gained notoriety: Delgado after he appeared on the front page of the New York Times having used his stimoceiver to stop a charging bull in Spain; Freeman as the proponent of lobotomy. Both were the object of critique by the antipsychiatry movement and those who felt that their methods and objectives posed a threat to personal liberty. Using archival sources, we demonstrate that this conflation is a misrepresentation of the historical record and that their methods, objectives, ethics, and philosophical commitments differed widely. Accurate knowledge about historical antecedents is a predicate for ethical analysis and becomes especially relevant information as neuroscience develops circuit-based treatments for conditions such as Parkinson disease, depression, and brain injury. Part of that corrective is to counter the conflation of Delgado’s and Freeman’s life and work. Appreciating their distinctive legacies can help guide neuropsychiatric research done today that might yet haunt future generations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)518-531
Number of pages14
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • José Manuel Rodríguez Delgado
  • Walter Freeman
  • history of medicine
  • neuroethics
  • psychosurgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology


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