Henry Molaison’s operation for epilepsy: a case study in medical ethics

Sunil K Pandya

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2017.087


Dr. William Beecher Scoville, an eminent American neurosurgeon of the 1940s, offered to treat Mr Molaison for his intractable epilepsy. During the operation, he removed large portions of both of Mr. Molaison’s temporal lobes. Such an operation had never been performed earlier as the function of these parts of the brain was not clearly understood and neurosurgeons such as Dr. Wilder Penfield of Canada feared they could cause grave damage to the patient.

Mr. Molaison developed severe loss of memory to the extent that a few minutes after meeting someone, he had no recollection of the meeting and he could not find his way to his own home.

Mr. Dittrich, grandson of Dr. Scoville, has analysed the operation on Mr. Molaison’s brain against the background of neurosurgery in the 1940s. This essay discusses the ethical aspects of Dr. Scoville’s operation in the light of current understanding and practice.

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