For over a century, doctors have been trying to cure mental illness through outlandish means. From the removal of ovaries in the late 1800s to the amputation of breasts and penises today, the field of psychiatry has a long history of unethical and barbaric treatments.
In the late 19th century, the female reproductive system was thought to be the cause of a range of mental disorders afflicting women. Thousands of mostly young women had their perfectly healthy uteri and/or ovaries removed as a supposed cure for their mental distress.
In the early 1900s, surgical bacteriology was popular. This stemmed from the belief that mental illness was caused by diseased parts of the body. Between 1920 and 1930, Dr Henry Cotton, director of the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum, removed over 11,000 teeth. If the patient didn't recover, he’d continue his quest, removing their tonsils, spleen, stomach or colon. Cotton wasn't just some crank experimenting on his patients; he was well-respected and seen as a leader in his field. He eventually suspected himself of going mad and had his own teeth removed.
Around the same time, others practiced malaria therapy, which involved injecting patients with the malaria parasite under the belief that the resulting high fever would kill the virus or bacteria that was causing the mental illness. This idea came about because malaria therapy did actually work as a remedy for syphilis. However, in psychiatry, it offered no relief, and many patients never recovered from their treatment, instead succumbing to malaria.
In the 1930s, doctors came up with insulin coma therapy, which involved using insulin to put the patient in a coma, then waking them with glucose with the aim of inducing powerful seizures that were somehow thought to be therapeutic. Many suffered loss of speech and memory. Five percent of patients died.
But of course, the most famous devastating treatment of all is the lobotomy. In the 1940s, this was a groundbreaking new procedure, so widely celebrated that its inventor, Antonio Egas Moniz was awarded the Nobel Prize for its invention in 1949. At the time, those suffering from severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia were condemned to being locked up in mental asylums where the conditions were horrific. Lobotomies seemed to be the humane option, and Walter Freeman, the doctor who brought the procedure to the US, played down the negative effects and grossly exaggerated the benefits.
By the 1950s, people were lining up to get lobotomies, with women seeking a cure for depression and even parents requesting the procedure be performed on their children. The most famous person to be lobotomised was Rosemary Kennedy, the younger sister of President John F. Kennedy. She experienced a life of severe mental and physical disability as a result.
The official number of recorded lobotomies in the US is around 50,000, but in his book "Cracked: The Unhappy Truth About Psychiatry," James Davies estimates the actual number to be as high as 1 million.
As the horrific truth about lobotomies became too obvious to ignore, and with the development of antipsychotic drugs, doctors replaced the ice pick with the prescription pad and so ended what many believed was, and would always be, the medical world's greatest crime.
But at the same time that doctors were jabbing ice picks into people's brains, another ethically dubious medical adventure was getting underway. The patients were mostly adult males, their numbers were tiny, and they were suffering from a poorly understood disorder: gender dysphoria.
In a quest to find peace, these men were willing to take part in an experiment involving cross-sex hormones and risky surgeries. Doctors did their best to select only those for whom transition would be a success. Even so, long-term outcomes were poor, with one long range study showing dramatically shortened life expectancy and a high suicide risk ten years after undergoing medical sex change.
But then disaster struck. In the first decades of the 21st century along came the trans rights movement. It rejected the idea that gender dysphoria was a serious psychiatric condition, and instead proclaimed the cause of gender distress to be a mismatched gendered soul - a gender identity. Questioning the existence of this fictional psychic entity was declared bigotry.
In the name of trans rights, young people were bombarded with dangerous lies about gender. This triggered a social contagion; legions of confused teens started showing up at gender clinics, and incredibly, the world of psychiatry declared affirmation of the disorder accompanied by chemical and surgical butchery to be the remedy.
Now, in many countries around the world, only celebration of these "trans kids" is permitted. Exploring why the child’s transgender identity might have formed is forbidden. Instead, the first line of treatment for their poorly defined disorder is to destroy their endocrine system with toxic experimental puberty blockers.
Next come cross-sex hormones. Again, it is required that doctors ignore all safety concerns. Also to be ignored is the fact almost every child is progressing to this next invasive step, when in the past, approximately 80% of kids desisted after puberty. Questioning this dramatic change has been declared transphobic.
Then surgeons sharpen their scalpels and chop the healthy breasts off the mostly lesbian and autistic teenage girls caught up in this social contagion, remove their chemically atrophied reproductive organs, and sometimes even strip the skin and flesh from their forearms to use to create neo-penises, seemingly never once stopping to question this monstrous practice.
Young men, many of whom are gay, are getting breast implants and even having their penises amputated and fashioned into something supposedly resembling a vagina, all because they grew up in a poisonous era in which they are told their gender-nonconformity and homosexuality means they are women.
But just as during its heyday the lobotomy was seen by many to be a miracle cure, today the prevailing wisdom is that performing sex changes on young people is ethical, life-saving care. However, the sharply rising rates of detransition tell a very different story. Heartbreaking stories of regret are being told with increasing frequency, and the harrowing accounts on a Detrans Subreddit that now has more than 43,000 members give a small glimpse of the horror that awaits society when the floodgates finally open.
The atrocity isn't over yet, but it's in its death throes now. England, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and some US states are leading the way to ending what is arguably the greatest medical crime ever committed. One can only hope that this time we have learnt our lesson and never again allow such horrors to occur.