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Neurosurg Focus. 2017 Sep;43(3):E12. doi: 10.3171/2017.6.FOCUS17252.

Dr. Robert G. Heath: a controversial figure in the history of deep brain stimulation.

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Department of Neurosurgery, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


The history of psychosurgery is filled with tales of researchers pushing the boundaries of science and ethics. These stories often create a dark historical framework for some of the most important medical and surgical advancements. Dr. Robert G. Heath, a board-certified neurologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst, holds a debated position within this framework and is most notably remembered for his research on schizophrenia. Dr. Heath was one of the first physicians to implant electrodes in deep cortical structures as a psychosurgical intervention. He used electrical stimulation in an attempt to cure patients with schizophrenia and as a method of conversion therapy in a homosexual man. This research was highly controversial, even prior to the implementation of current ethics standards for clinical research and often goes unmentioned within the historical narrative of deep brain stimulation (DBS). While distinction between the modern practice of DBS and its controversial origins is necessary, it is important to examine Dr. Heath's work as it allows for reflection on current neurosurgical practices and questioning the ethical implication of these advancements.


CIA = Central Intelligence Agency; DBS = deep brain stimulation; EEG = electroencephalography; LSD = lysergic acid diethylamide; Robert G. Heath; deep brain stimulation; ethics; functional; history; lobotomy; psychosurgery

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