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Saturday, January 08, 2005

And we’re back

This parasitic but long-wandering blog has found its new host.  Comments are open again, and I’ll resume posting this weekend.  But first, let us take a moment to mourn the passing of Rosemary Kennedy, who helped change the way Americans understand mental retardation but was subjected to a barbaric frontal lobotomy along the way.

Rosemary Kennedy, the oldest sister of President John F. Kennedy and the inspiration for the Special Olympics, died Friday. She was 86.

. . . Her retardation may have stemmed from brain damage at birth. But 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.

Preserved by her mother’s secretary, the diaries came to light in 1995, in a book. And while they revealed no great secrets, the three diaries—written between 1936 and 1938—described people she met and concerts and operas she attended.

As she got older, however, her father worried that his daughter’s mild condition would lead her into situations that could damage the family’s reputation.

“Rosemary was a woman, and there was a dread fear of pregnancy, disease and disgrace,” author Laurence Leamer wrote in his book “The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family.”

Leamer wrote that Rosemary had taken to sneaking out of the convent where she was staying at the time.

Doctors told Joseph Kennedy that a lobotomy, a medical procedure in which the frontal lobes of a patient’s brain are scraped away, would help his daughter and calm her mood swings that the family found difficult to handle at home.

Psychosurgery was in its infancy at the time, and only a few hundred lobotomies had been performed. The procedure was believed to be a way to relieve serious mental disorders.

Leamer wrote that Rosemary was “probably the first person with mental retardation in America to receive a prefrontal lobotomy.”

But Rosemary was reduced to an infant-like state, mumbling words and sitting for hours staring at walls, Leamer wrote.

So if you know someone with mental retardation who’s not locked away, who’s living a rich, full life among his or her nondisabled peers (and I’m going to go swimming with such a person in a few minutes myself), thank Rosemary and her family. 

Posted by Michael on 01/08 at 11:15 AM
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