New research provides a sad look at both the last days of former Argentinian first lady Eva Perón and how severe pain caused by cancer and other diseases was sometimes treated back in the 1950s. It's well-known that Perón died of cervical cancer when she was only 33, but a Yale researcher says that several months before she died "Evita" was given a lobotomy.
In an essay for the New York Times, Columbia University's Dr. Barron H. Lerner writes that in 2005 a doctor who assisted in Perón's cancer treatment revealed that she'd undergone a lobotomy, but there was little evidence to confirm this until Dr. Daniel E. Nijensohn, a Yale neurosurgeon, started to look in to the doctor's claims. Now in research soon to be published in the journal World Neurosurgery, Nijensohn says he's confirmed the story. Several other sources say Perón had surgery to manage her pain, travel records show a neurosurgeon known as an expert in lobotomy traveled to Argentina shortly before her death in July 1952, and X-rays show there are indents on her skull that are indicative of the surgery.
While now the lobotomy is seen as a barbaric procedure, at the time it was considered as a revolutionary procedure useful for treating a variety of problems, including severe pain. By severing neural connections in the front of the brain doctors believed they could reduce emotional reactions to pain. It was known that the procedure could leave patients in a child-like or apathetic state, but that was seen as preferable to the suffering caused by terminal diseases.
What makes Perón's story particularly tragic is that it seems that she didn't know she was having the operation. Her doctors and her husband didn't tell her she had cervical cancer or what exactly she was being treated for, so it's most likely that like thousands of other people who received lobotomies, Perón didn't even consent to the procedure.