A muted suffering for Irish women

“Symphysiotomy is a childbirth operation that severs one of the main pelvic joints, sundering the pubic bones and unhinging the pelvis. A related operation, pubiotomy, which splits the pubic bone rather than the symphysis joint and results in a ‘compound fracture of the pelvis’, was also performed. At least 1,500 of these operations were recorded here from 1944-92: most were carried out in ‘voluntary’ or private hospitals under the control of the Catholic dioceses of Dublin, Armagh, and Cork and Ross. Around 180 symphysiotomy mothers are believed to survive in Ireland today.”

Two things stood out to me from this section of Marie O’Connor’s report (found here: http://bit.ly/weMIk0) on the barbaric practices carried out on birthing mothers in Ireland. Firstly the number: 1,500. One thousand, five hundred women physically abused in the name of a catholic doctrine, namely that of not wanting to perform a caesarean section as it may impede future births, thereby going against the catholic hope for a swelling brood.

Secondly, the year it stopped: 1992. Just 20 years ago.

The horrific truth of symphysiotomy was unknown to me up until a few weeks ago and I’ve since spent time reading Ms O’Connor’s report and statements from campaign group Survivors of Symphysiotomy, whose Facebook page you can see here: http://on.fb.me/AkCmOB.

The survivors are now seeking the “temporary setting aside of the statute of limitations, to enable survivors to seek redress through the courts,” and have been for a while actually, but they haven’t received any satisfaction so far.

Ms O’Connor’s report says that around 180 women living in Ireland today experienced this traumatic and injurious procedure. Is this not a high enough figure to count? I’ve written before about the apparent blind-eyes and deafened ears when it came to abuses carried out in the name of God and which came to light on a global scale in the Ryan and McCarthy reports. Are those responsible for the physical and mental wellness of Irish people going to hide behind technicalities and jargon yet again?

The matter is sure to be mentioned in the broadsheets in the coming weeks following the formation of an all party committee to support survivors. And just last week and interesting series of questions were answered by Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly. (See the full transcript here: http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2012/02/15/00014.asp)

Dr Reilly claims that  he “reject[s] the Deputy’s contention that this was a barbaric act, although its use in certain circumstances may well transpire to have been utterly inappropriate.”

Not to put too fine a point on it Dr Reilly, but splitting someone’s pelvis in two, arguably unnecessarily, could conceivably be placed in the realms of barbaric behaviour by most people’s definitions.

A report is awaited and Dr Reilly assured questioners in the Dail that “The Government is committed to dealing with it sensitively, so that if at all possible, closure can be brought to those affected by it.”

It needs to happen now, far too much time has passed already.


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