SURVIVORS OF SYMPHYSIOTOMY gathered outside Leinster House this afternoon to protest against the government delaying a Bill which will set aside the legal bar to justice for victims.
The Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill 2013 passed Second Stage on 17 April by an unanimous vote but no further action has been taken since.
The women, many of whom are in their 70s and 80s, want to see the legislation presented so they can take their fight to the Irish courts. The law will see the Statue of Limitations set aside for a period of 12 months to allow the victims to seek compensation from the State.
Symphysiotomies were performed in Irish hospitals throughout the 20th century as an alternative to the more common and safer Caesarean section. The surgery involved breaking the woman’s pelvis during childbirth (widening it by up to 3.5cm). The Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) group claims that the operations were carried out without prior knowledge or consent “mainly for religious reasons, by obstetricians who were opposed to family planning.”
Ireland’s final symphysiotomy was performed in Our Ladies of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda in 1984.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, the oldest survivor of the group, Margaret Dutton, said she had come to the demonstration to demand an apology from the government.
The 91-year-old’s symphysiotomy was carried out at Holles Street hospital on 30 October 1949, days after being admitted.
“I went up and down the stairs on my bottom for about three months after he was born. [He being her son Joseph who attended the protest with her.]
I kept thinking how did my mother do this seven times? She then caught me and asked me what I was doing? I didn’t know anything different had happened.
Joseph says his mother found it very difficult to talk about her experience until now but that they wanted to attend the rally today. He brought his birth certificate with him, which noted that although his mother had a symphysiotomy, the labour was registered as “normal”.
“We were very fortunate to get the records,” he added, as many have been destroying in the intervening decades.
At the other end of the age bracket, Maria Kelly is the youngest survivor of the group. She was just 19 years old when she gave birth to her daughter in 1973. Her second pregnancy a year later also ended with a symphysiotomy. Her doctor was the now-infamous Michael Neary.
“It was woeful. It was barbaric,” she recalls. “We carried the scars for the rest of our lives.”
It is 51 years since Teresa Devoy underwent the procedure in Kilkenny. She talks about her ongoing problems of incontinence and walking difficulties:
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin convened the all-party group which tabled the Bill. He said the Walsh Report into symphysiotomy which is due soon is not relevant to the women’s current situation.
“It is important that these women have the opportunity to choose in what course they want to take their case,” he told TheJournal.ie.
In a later statement, he added: “This legislation is of a very urgent nature. Many of the victims of this horrific procedure are very elderly. Time is, most certainly, of the essence. I am calling on the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Minister Alan Shatter to facilitate the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill 2013 now, to allow for its swift progress through Committee and Report and Final Stages, preferably before the Summer Recess, and to finally allow victims the opportunity to take their cases to the courts if they so wish.”
Many of the women present at the Dáil today say they have no confidence in the Walsh Report.
“The first part tried to emphasise that we were undernourished and the doctors said we were unable to undergo C-Sections,” explains Teresa Devoy. “Nothing could be further from the truth in my case. They did not speak with any of the women. I have no confidence in waffle.”