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Government condemned by symphysiotomy group for “underhand approach”

A survivors’ group says any proposals for a Magdalene-type scheme of redress would be “wholly inappropriate”, and has called on the Government to engage with its members.

A 'Survivors of Symphysiotomy' protest  outside Leinster House last month
A 'Survivors of Symphysiotomy' protest outside Leinster House last month
Image: Sinéad O'Carroll/TheJournal.ie

SUPPORT GROUP ‘SURVIVORS of Symphysiotomy’ is accusing the Department of Health of being dishonest and secretive in its dealings with victims of the outdated surgery.

A report containing the results of a government-commissioned investigation into the practice is expected to be published today, but the group says it has not been updated on its contents and that they have had no contact with the department in over a year.

According to SoS Chairperson Marie O’Connor, “months” have been spent “behind closed doors, apparently, seeking to manufacture consent to a redress scheme designed to head off legal action by survivors.”

“We don’t want these women to be denied access to the truth of what’s going on, as well as access to justice,” O’Connor told TheJournal.ie.

Symphysiotomy is an operation whereby a woman’s pelvic hinge is deliberately severed, with the aim of facilitating childbirth. It was carried out in some Irish hospitals until the mid-1980s. However, the practice had been long since abandoned elsewhere, and left many women incontinent, in chronic pain, and in some cases disabled.

Independent researchers were appointed by the department to carry out its investigation, which was supported by the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. During that process, the Institute consulted with a separate survivors’ advocacy group known as ‘SOS Ltd’, which, Marie O’Connor claims, represents only around 2 per cent of the women affected by the surgery.

According to Minister for Health James Reilly, the consultation phase of the investigation was advertised openly to the public “in order to reach as many interested persons as possible“.

Marie O’Connor of ‘Survivors Of Symphysiotomy’ (Image: Photocall Ireland)

O’Connor says any Magdalene-type scheme proposed in the upcoming report would be “wholly inappropriate” for survivors of symphysiotomy:

The latter are victims of wrongful surgery that ruined their health in the prime of their lives, surgery carried out on the State’s watch by obstetricians who knew they were at odds with the clinical norms of the time.

In addition, survivors of symphysiotomy do not wish to see the multiple defects of that scheme applied to themselves.

The group is proposing a compensation fund of between €250,00 and 450,000 for each survivor of the surgery, which it says represents a “fair and equitable” recognition of the pain, suffering and disruption of life experienced by the women.

‘Survivors of Symphysiotomy’ is also calling the Government to move ahead with legislation which will set aside the legal bar to justice for the victims. The Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill 2013 passed Second Stage on 17 April by a unanimous vote but no further action has been taken since.

(Additional reporting by Aaron McNicholas)

Read: Symphysiotomy survivors want justice for ‘barbaric’ acts

Interview: ‘I didn’t know if my baby was dead or alive for two days’

Read: Mixed response from symphysiotomy survivors to lifting statute of limitations

Read: Government accepts Bill to allow for symphysiotomy compensation

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