Name: Richard Meredith
Died: Sept. 1, 2013
Age at death: 82
Cause of death: Choking, secondary to brain damage from lobotomy
Location: Des Moines, Iowa, USA
82 years old when he died, Mr. Meredith was born in the early 1930s, during the era of eugenics, lobotomies, and forced sterilization.
Digging through old medical records, Mr. Meredith’s family gathered that if he had been born today, he would have been diagnosed with “a moderate case of autism… [a] relatively mild disability.” He was a quirky, shy young man who did not look people in the eye and tended to fidget. He liked to spend his free time listening to radio programs, and he wanted to work on a truck. He had a few close friends; he loved to read, and he loved sports. He would spend hours shooting baskets or tossing a football.
At age 15, Richard Meredith was admitted to a state institution. He would spend the rest of his long life in such residential placements.
When he was about 17 years old, without his family’s permission, officials at the institution had a doctor perform a lobotomy on him. During the interview with the doctor, asked what he wanted most of all, Richard said that he wanted to develop his thinking, and that he wanted to go home. Instead, he got a lobotomy that made it impossible for him to ever live on his own. This now-infamous procedure, used on more than forty thousand people in the United States alone, severely damaged Richard’s brain as doctors intentionally severed the connections between the prefrontal lobe and the rest of the brain. The prefrontal lobe is approximately the front one-third of the brain, involved in planning, personality, and self-regulation.
Brain damage from the lobotomy “…left [Mr. Meredith] a virtual toddler, unable to ever again carry on a coherent conversation.”
Mr. Meredith spent 48 years in institutions; some were good, some bad. He found happiness visiting with his family and participating in the Special Olympics. He loved music and chocolate.
At 82, Mr. Meredith died in the same institution that had ordered the lobotomy, now modern and much changed. His family says he was happy there.
The institution told Mr. Meredith’s family that he had died from a heart attack. His sister only found out that they had lied when, months later, she read a newspaper article about the institution having been fined for giving Mr. Meredith a peanut butter sandwich when he had been prescribed a pureed-food diet. Mr. Meredith, who had a swallowing problem and, because of the lobotomy, could not communicate well enough to inform anyone that he had been given the wrong food, tried to eat the sandwich, choked, and died. Staff found him slumped over a table, unresponsive, and could not revive him.
The worker who gave Mr. Meredith the sandwich has been dismissed for negligence.
Mr. Meredith’s family sued the nursing home, a lawsuit that ended with awarding them a settlement of $150,000. The government responded to this by billing the family $25,000 for Mr. Meredith’s care.