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Symphysiotomy scandal: Survivors 'weren't told'

Powerful testimony at Oireachtas committee today from women who underwent operation – without their knowledge they say.

Margaret O'Dwyer, from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, and Catherine McKeever, of Ardee, Co Louth, who spoke to the Oireachtas Justice Committee today.
Margaret O'Dwyer, from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, and Catherine McKeever, of Ardee, Co Louth, who spoke to the Oireachtas Justice Committee today.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

SURVIVORS OF SYMPHYSIOSTOMIES – a severe surgical procedure used to widen the pelvis for childbirth – have given powerful first-hand testimony at an Oireachtas committee meeting.

Many of these operations were carried out in hospitals across Ireland from the 1940s right through to the 1980s and have left women who underwent them with life-long chronic pain and other medical problems.

Today’s meeting with some of the survivors at the Oireachtas Justice Committee heard that the women want the statute of limitations lifted for a one-year period so that they can seek redress through the courts. Two of the women in today’s hearing gave testimony of how they had not actually been told what happened to their bodies and only discovered much later when the media began reporting on the situation. One said she only found out she was a victim of a symphysiotomy in 2002, long after her children had reached adulthood.

One of the women, Catherine McKeever, gave this powerful account of what happened to her. We’re reproducing it in full here:

I went into the hospital in June 1969 to have my baby. I went in, waters broken, in labour. I was brought immediately to the waiting room, but labour went off me completely on the Tuesday night, and on the Tuesday evening I was brought down the surgery. And the doctor looked at me, and examined me, and told me my baby will be born tonight. She was born on Wednesday morning. Roughly, around 6 o’clock.

I was lying on a bed, a stretcher bed, and my legs up in stirrups, and I couldn’t really see what was going on, only the doctor was at the end of the bed.

I didn’t realise what was happening, but there was a nurse at my side, and I kept saying, “Is the baby coming? Is the baby coming?” And she was trying to give me gas and everything, which I didn’t want, and the doctor just says, “Leave her alone, she doesn’t want it.”

And then she told me the baby was coming. It was a foot that was out. Now, he pushed that foot back, and all I know is – I seen him with an instrument which I thought was a bit of a lathe, because my father was a wood-turner.

And I heard this crack, and I said, “Oh, the hernia’s down,” because I’d had an operation for a hernia. And nobody answered me, nobody said anything. And I didn’t realise what happened.

I wasn’t told what happened.

Well, as well as that, as I was a private patient, there were students in the room. And I wasn’t even asked if they could come into the room.

Chair (David Stanton, FG) interrupting: You didn’t know this was happening?

CMcK: I didn’t know.

Chair: And this is why you want the statute lifted?

CM: Yes.

Column: Symphysiotomy was seen as a gateway to childbearing without limits>

Read: Draft symphysiotomy report due this week>

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