Brain surgery for schizophrenia

Nearly unheard of in the Western world, but not in China, where’s fee-for-service gone wild:

Mi Zhantao, a poor 25-year-old living with his parents outside this provincial capital in eastern China, was battling depression and had trouble socializing. Doctors said he had schizophrenia. They recommended brain surgery.

Mr. Mi’s family spent about $4,800 — the equivalent of four years’ income, and more than their life savings — on the operation, at No. 454 Hospital of the People’s Liberation Army in Nanjing. The highly controversial procedure involved drilling tiny holes in the young man’s skull, inserting a 7½-inch-long needle and burning small areas of brain tissue thought to be causing his problems.

The surgeon, who operated on Mr. Mi the day he met him, says he has performed nearly 1,000 such procedures, mostly for schizophrenia, but also for illnesses ranging from depression to epilepsy, since the hospital started offering the operation in 2004.

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