Many of you may have heard about symphysiotomy in recent weeks but for those of you who haven’t symphysiotomy is yet another sinister chapter in Ireland’s past. Symphysiotomy was the practice of breaking a woman’s pelvis bone during labour instead of performing a caesarean section. It was once a common procedure in most places around the world up due to lack of sanitary conditions for performing caesareans. However with the advent of improvement to medical techniques, hygiene and clinical practise its popularity began to wane in the 19th century eventually leaving Ireland as the only country in the developed world that was still carrying out symphysiotomies in the 20th century.
Syphysiotomy in Ireland was, like as with so many other things, linked with the influence of the Catholic Church. At the time Caesarean sections could only be carried out four times, whereas symphysiotomy was seen as a ‘gateway to childbearing without limitations’. Caesareans were discouraged as they were associated with what Archbishop McQuaid called the ‘crime of birth-prevention’. Symphysiotomies were also carried out for training and experimental purposes, in particular for doctors who would be going abroad to third world countries. Symphysiotomies often went wrong and they had far reaching consequences and often lifelong consequences for the women on whom they were performed. None or few of the women were ever told at the time what was being done to them. The way in which they were treated was a complete violation of their bodily autonomy and has been described by doctors as “beastly cruelty and butchery”.
In Ireland it is estimated that 1,500 women unknowingly and without their consent underwent symphysiotomies during childbirth between 1944 – 1992. The Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) are seeking redress through the courts for the permanent damage they suffered as a result of symphysiotomy, during which their pelvises were unhinged. Survivors of Symphysiotomy called on the Irish Government to have the statute bar lifted so the SoS can seek redress through the courts. The Justice Bill has now been accepted by all TDs in the Dáil. The Survivors of Symphysiotomy group now need to ensure this bill becomes legislation and all survivors are given access to justice as soon as possible and that Government acknowledges the wrongfulness of this barbaric operation and abandons its defective Walsh report.
I would urge you to give them your full support.