This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
Dublin: 6 °C Saturday 25 January, 2020

5 women due compensation for 'barbaric and cruel' childbirth procedure died before receiving it

“The sons and daughters of these women feel that their mothers’ suffering never received any acknowledgment or recognition.”

shutterstock_436280068 Source: Shutterstock/fantom_rd

YESTERDAY, A REPORT confirmed the HSE had compensation to 399 victims of symphysiotomy – paying out a total of €34 million.

Payments of either €50,000, €100,000 or €150,000 were given to 399 women who applied to a grant payment scheme looking to compensate women for the injuries they sustained as a result of the childbirth procedure.

But of the women who were eligible for the payment, five had died before they could accept an offer. According to the HSE’s statement:

Four applicants died before any offer was made. One applicant died before the offer that was notified to her could be accepted.

Marie O’Connor, a spokesperson for the Survivors of Symphysiotomy said:

“The sons and daughters of these women who have died feel left out and not taken into account. They feel that their mothers’ suffering never received any acknowledgment or recognition.”

O’Connor rejects the recent Clarke report and redress scheme as a ‘whitewash’ that sidesteps responsibility, saying a lot of women feel the same.

“These women wanted the truth on a clandestine operation. We’d certainly see the latest grant scheme as a part of that, as it doesn’t admit responsibility or apologise – it wishes to mitigate the harm and injury caused and obscure the truth.

I know one woman who received one of the top payments of this scheme (€150,000) and she said she was extremely disappointed that there was no mechanism for her to say what she wanted to say.

O’Connor also emphasised the point that there were women who died before the scandal was ever uncovered – and probably more women who received the operation but still to this day don’t know.

She’s calling for an independent inquiry into the clinical circumstances around symphysiotomy – to prove that they were planned procedures and not done in emergency situations.

“There was an inquiry 12 years ago and it went nowhere.”

The Harding Clarke Report on the payment scheme noted that nearly 185 applications were rejected as the women “were unable to establish their claim”.

11/9/2014 Survivors of Symphysiotomy Protests Survivors of Symphysiotomy protest outside the Dáil against the government's redress scheme. Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland


Symphysiotomy was carried out on an estimated 1,500 women in Ireland up to the 1980s, long after it was discontinued in other jurisdictions.

The controversial operation involved cutting the cartilage of a pregnant women’s pelvic bone – or breaking the bone itself in some extreme cases – to widen the birth canal.

It was used as a preferred state procedure when most other countries had adopted the Caesarean section.

Many women subjected to the procedure were left with long-term medical difficulties, including incontinence and chronic pain.

The ‘Surgical Symphysiotomy Ex-gratia Payment Scheme’ was approved by government in November 2014.

It has handed out payments totalling €34 million to victims of symphysiotomy on the condition that they drop any legal proceedings against the state.

Judge Maureen Harding Clark was appointed independent assessor to the scheme which was aimed at women who underwent a surgical symphysiotomy or pubiotomy in the State between 1940 and 1990.

‘I thought I had paralysis’

In November 2014 the Survivors of Symphysiotomy’s submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture gave the accounts of women who underwent the “barbaric and cruel” childbirth operation.

Here is the account of one woman of what she felt after the procedure:

“The next day [the doctors] heard the roaring and screaming. They didn’t tell me what they were doing, I thought I had paralysis, I couldn’t move my legs up or down, I was so sore I couldn’t move.

I couldn’t hold him [the child]: they kept him in [hospital] three months. I was in six weeks, my legs were as dead as dead could be. I asked what was wrong, nobody told me.

“It was a case of shut up – you felt you were up against a brick wall. He [doctor] didn’t come to my bedside. I was too paralysed to walk.”

Read: State apology: 399 women given up to €150,000 each for symphysiotomy procedures

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article

About the author:

Read next: