WOMEN who underwent brutal and controversial symphysiotomies have shown remarkable courage and a government move to allow them seek redress in the courts is good news at the end of what has been a torturous journey for survivors, Fine Gael TD, John Paul Phelan, said.
The Government announced over the past few days that it will not oppose a Private Member’s Bill aimed at setting aside the statute of limitations in these cases. The news means that the numerous women who contacted Deputy Phelan and others to raise the issue will finally get some redress and some closure, he believes.
“Existing legislation was an obstacle and prevented most of the surviving women who underwent the operation during the 1960s, 70s and 80s from seeking justice or redress in the courts. Some serious flaws remain in the proposed legislation but these can be dealt with by way of amendments.
“Many of the survivors I’ve spoken to were told they had undergone a ‘slight operation’ during childbirth, only to find out later in their lives that their public bone had been sawed in half to widen the birth canal. For many women, this caused permanent injuries such as incontinence, difficulties walking and chronic pain.
“We can never, ever undo the wrong that was done to these mothers but we can do some right by allowing them some justice through the courts. It is regretful though that of the estimated 1,500 women who underwent the procedure, fewer than 200 survivors remain.”
The tabling of the Bill followed lengthy lobbying by the ‘Survivors of Symphysiotomy’ support group which gathered more than 20,000 signatures in support of its campaign for justice.
“This is an incredibly courageous group of women. They have battled with ill-health all of their lives and now they are finally getting some justice. Compensation can never undo the wrong that was done to them but I would hope that it would provide them with some comfort and some closure in the later years of their lives. It is essential now that this legislation passes and that there are no further delays.”
A report commissioned by the Government last year found that use of symphysiotomies was at its peak in Ireland when it had declined in the rest of Europe.
The use of the procedure was concentrated in a handful of hospitals, according to the report. These include Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda (348), the National Maternity Hospital (281) and the Coombe in Dublin (242).