Kaimowitz v. Department of Mental Health: Involuntary Mental Patient Cannot Give Informed Consent to Experimental Psychosurgery


Psychosurgery is the most drastic means of affecting human behavior. It produces an immediate, extensive and irreversible change in the subject’s personality; it requires a physical intrusion into the brain; it is impossible for a subject to resist. So drastic a technique has naturally generated much mistrust. Congressmen have called for a moratorium or ban on such operations and a Senate subcommittee has recently conducted hearings in an attempt to gather information for an empirical analysis of psychosurgery.

Surgery on the human brain has been practiced in the United States since lobotomies were first performed in 1936. Many lobotomies have caused emotional disturbances and impaired judgment; it is not a procedure generally performed today. Recently there have been several hundred psychosurgical operations performed each year in this country, yet no legal challenges to psychosurgery appeared until 1973. In July of that year, the Wayne County Circuit Court for the State of Michigan, in Kaimowitz v. Department of Mental Health, held that an involuntarily committed mental patient is incapable of giving legally adequate consent to experimental psychosurgery.

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