Recently I had occasion to read David Nasaw’s “The Patriarch,” a lengthy and detailed biography of Joseph P. Kennedy. The book highlights the turbulent life of the founder of one of America’s greatest political dynasties. Kennedy clearly led a life of great accomplishment, but it was also a life diminished by destructive actions. One of them was particularly despicable.
In Joseph P. Kennedy’s view, the Kennedy family, made up of nine children, had only one major blemish: Kennedy’s eldest daughter, Rosemary. From her earliest childhood, Rosemary displayed signs of psychiatric problems and was an exception to the elder Kennedy’s otherwise extraordinary and seemingly perfect brood.
At one point, Rosemary‘s father, without her mother’s approval or apparently even her knowledge, had Rosemary subjected to a frontal lobotomy. This surgery, which removed certain connections in a patient’s brain, was not uncommon at the time. It was supposed to provide a cure for those with severe mental problems and occasionally achieved favorable results. But actually, rarely. The real effects of these horrific procedures only became clear long after they had been accepted and applied.
Rosemary Kennedy’s physical condition was irreparably damaged by her lobotomy. She became seriously incapacitated and was never again able to live independently. She spent the balance of her life in an institution without hope of improvement.
It is difficult to condemn Joseph Kennedy for his decision to have a lobotomy performed on his daughter. At the time, the surgery was endorsed by many psychiatrists. In cases where psychiatrists did not know what else to do, they would counsel this radical surgery. Today, this procedure is totally discredited, and virtually no psychiatrist would recommend the procedure for a patient.
Of course, lobotomies are hardly the only example of medical procedures that were widely applied at one time and are now considered unacceptable. Perhaps the most prominent of these was the practice of bleeding patients, including through the application of leeches. In hindsight, we now know that a great many patients died or were terribly weakened and harmed by this once common and widely applied medical treatment. The passage of time and subsequent research has totally discredited these and many other once highly touted methods.
Bearing in mind these examples of once-popular medical treatments, which are now universally rejected, we would expect that medical professionals would today be cautious about espousing and endorsing new and seldom-tested medical procedures. However, the opposite seems to be true.
We are in an era where there seems to be an unparalleled kind of undifferentiated collective thinking among doctors. Just as in prior eras, certain newly developed notions and techniques have now hastily been adopted with vehemence, and those who disagree with them and with their application are being systematically silenced.
Today’s lobotomy equivalent is the medical transitioning of people from one gender to another. Whether these medical procedures are in the form of ingesting pharmaceuticals, such as hormonal treatments, or surgery, such as breast removal or genital alteration, these treatments are just as irreversible as Rosemary Kennedy’s lobotomy, which left her mentally incapacitated for the rest of her life.
Today’s in-vogue “gender-affirming” procedures, which are increasingly being inflicted on young people, many of whom are barely of an age to even know what is being done to them, are seemingly happily accepted by the American medical establishment — at least in public. Beyond the progressive ideological motivation, there also seems to be an economic component to this wave of approval from the establishment. It has become increasingly apparent that gender-altering treatments are highly lucrative and that profit may be a powerful motive for promoting such treatments.
Similarly to the treatments of the past that have now ceased being used due to the harm they caused but which were fully accepted in their time, there appears to be near unanimous approval among both the psychiatric community and the general medical community that gender dysphoria is a bona fide condition requiring radical remedying. All of this, however, has arisen in very short order and without the benefit of sufficient and comprehensive analysis or the quiet reflection that only time can provide.
Instead of subjecting the gender transitioning procedures to scrupulous analysis and waiting for reliable results, like a raging fire, radical transitioning techniques have taken hold and are being applied with alacrity.
Not entirely surprisingly, young people are apparently flocking to the altar of gender transitioning. It has been noted that the desire to change sex has frequently occurred among groups of young people in specific locations — suggesting the components of a fad or a collective hysteria. This has a kind of resonance with the events in Salem, Massachusetts, where in colonial times, young women were swept up in a quasi-religious hysteria characterized by false but vehement accusations of being victimized by witches. All of this turned out to be fictitious, but the harm caused by these girls and the adults who chose to believe in their tales reverberates through the ages.
It is with dispassion and care that any radical treatment should be applied. And it is with extreme caution that any irreversible treatments should be implemented, especially on the youngest among us. Whenever there is virtual unanimity among any group of professionals, it is time to step back and reflect before proceeding and, especially, when it comes to medical treatments from which there is no retreat.
The failure to behave in this manner is the assurance that, sadly, there will be many Rosemary Kennedys in our future.
• Gerard Leval is a partner in the Washington office of a national law firm. His book, “Lobbying for Equality: Jacques Godard and the Struggle for Jewish Civil Rights During the French Revolution,” was published by HUC Press in 2022.
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