Saturday, January 08, 2005

For the Record

Rosemary Kennedy died yesterday. She was 86. This daughter of Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy, sister of the late President John F. Kennedy and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, was lobotomized without her consent in 1941—at the age of 23—by authorization of her father and without the knowledge of her mother. Joseph Kennedy made this decision because he feared that his mildly mentally retarded daughter might embarrass the family and jeopardize the political ambitions he had for his oldest son, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., who died later in World War II. According to a biography of the family, Rosemary's father was told by doctors that the lobotomy would eliminate her erratic behavior. It reduced her to a passive incoherent being who was unable to care for herself. She spent the rest of her life in institutions.

In 1949, eight years after Rosemary's operation, neurologist Egas Moniz of Portugal won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for inventing lobotomy.

According to Reuters, "Rosemary was the inspiration for sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics for mentally disabled athletes."

A statement issued by the Kennedy family said in part: "From her earliest years, her mental retardation was a continuing inspiration to each of us, and a powerful source of our family's commitment to do all we can to help all persons with disabilities live full and productive lives. Millions of people of all ages have greater hope today because of Rosemary."


At 11:48 AM, Blogger Nicolas Martin said...

In spite of, or perhaps because of, Rosemary, the Kennedys have been psychiatric enthusiasts.

"Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was honored by the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society for his efforts to advance legislation that benefits people with psychiatric illnesses." ... "Kennedy, who addressed the MPS annual meeting, said, 'Mental health policy has a special meaning for me and the whole Kennedy family.'" -- Psychiatric News June 1, 2001,

"This year, Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Reps. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., reintroduced last year’s bill into the Senate and House, respectively. The new bill, the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act, is named after the late-senator from Minnesota and champion of mental health parity. If enacted, it will require full parity for all categories of mental health conditions listed in the DSM."
-- (2003, National Mental Health Association,

Why didn't they call it the Rosemary Kennedy Mental Health Parity Act?

At 2:24 PM, Blogger Nicolas Martin said...

There are many interesting statements on web sites about Rosemary Kennedy. On the "Timeline of Kennedy Tragedies" page at Infoplease, the first entry says "1941: Rosemary Kennedy, who is mentally ill, is institutionalized following a failed lobotomy." --

How do the effects of a "failed" lobotomy differ from those of a successful one?

Wikipedia says: "Rosemary was a shy and mentally slow child, symptoms which some believe point to dyslexia. The family had difficulty dealing with Rosemary's problems, and in 1941 her father asked a neurosurgeon to perform a prefrontal lobotomy — this was considered a magical cure. This did not have the effect that was foreseen, and afterwards Rosemary was incapable of living a normal life." -- "Rosemary Kennedy 1918-present She was born mildly disabled, but a lobotomy arranged by her father left her profoundly retarded."
-- "1941, Rosemary Kennedy, the oldest daughter of financial baron Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, is institutionalized for mental retardation and the effects of a failed lobotomy."
-- "She was known to be a great dancer and a fun loving party girl with a voluptuous bod! Did bad habits and a bad temper seal her fate?" ... "Rosemary Kennedy knew her glamourous siblings loved her but her letters show she was deeply saddened by the lack of acceptance she felt from her father. She was a teenager now and hadn't been allowed to come back home for years. Her mother who she was named for, was desperately looking for a way to cure Rosemary of her over-eating, her tantrums and her disobedient way of sneaking out of the nunnery to drink and meet guys." ... "A few days later her father took her to the doctor for a "check-up" without telling anyone else. Rosemary Kennedy was labotomized (sic) during that dreadful visit. There were no pain killers administered and she was totally awake as they cut away at her mind."

At 11:05 AM, Blogger Nicolas Martin said...

In Jonas Robitscher's book, "The Powers of Psychiatry," he writes, "A striking example of the political use of psychiatry involves the psychiatric hospitalization of General Edwin Walker, which was planned by Attorney General Robert Kennedy and implemented by a goverment psychiatrist."
... "Robert Kennedy was intimately involved in this attempt to have Walker committed [for resisting the desegration of the University of Mississippi]. Dr. [Charles] Smith [medical director and chief psychiatrist at the Federal Bureau of Prisons] examined the documents from the Department of Justice's file in his office (and was served dinner in Kennedy's office while he studied them). The story is indicative of the attorney general's willingness to make a political use of psychiatry, particularly as shown by his insistence that when one effort utilizing Smith failed, another effort utilizing [Manfred] Guttmacher should be made." Guttmacher was "America's foremost forensic psychiatrist."

Elsewhere in the book, Robitscher writes, "[Thomas Szasz] called attention to the role of the government in the psychiatric detention of Major General Edwin Walker, which was accomplished by means of an affidavit signed by a federally employed psychiatrist who had never seen Walker."

As regards his brother, Robitscher says, "In 1963 President Kennedy sent to Congress the first presidential message to deal with mental health, recommending a network of federally funded mental health community centers and research institutes. The message led to the passage of the Community Mental Health Centers Act of October 1963 and the start of the community mental health center system. Kennedy's message was the first of a whose series of presidential interventions into the health area, and eventually cancer, stroke, heart disease, renal disease, and sickle cell anemia programs would all be promoted as evidence of concern of the New Frontier and the Great Society ... The mental health program, unlike the others, had tremendous potential for intervention into all phases of the lives of individuals."

And that intervention would be known as the Therapeutic State.

At 9:04 AM, Blogger Mira de Vries said... reports:

“…in her own diaries before the lobotomy she chronicled a life of tea dances, dress fittings, trips to Europe and a visit to the Roosevelt White House… while they revealed no great secrets, the three diaries -- written between 1936 and 1938 -- described people she met and concerts and operas she attended."

This hardly sounds like mental retardation.

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

It surely does not. It seems that old Joe was worried that his daughter would not permit him to have veto power over her liaisons with men. She apparently thought she shouldn't have to dedicate her life to putting brother Joseph in the White House. Her father did not take kindly to such insolence. So he had her fixed.


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