Friday 23 February 2018

Mother's tears as court says birth op 'entirely unjustified'

Olivia Kearney leaving court in Dublin yesterday after the Supreme Court ruling
Olivia Kearney leaving court in Dublin yesterday after the Supreme Court ruling

Tim Healy and Eilish O'Regan

A 60-YEAR-old woman wept at the Supreme Court yesterday after it upheld a High Court finding that a controversial procedure carried out on her just after having her first baby at the age of 18 was "entirely unjustified".

The five-judge court said the symphysiotomy procedure -- to enlarge the pelvis before the birth -- should never have been carried out on Olivia Kearney in 1969 when she was unconscious and anaesthetised.

The Supreme Court upheld the finding that the controversial procedure was "entirely unjustified" and "deeply flawed". However, the court cut the general damages awarded to her by the High Court's Mr Justice Sean Ryan from €450,000 to €325,000.

Ms Kearney said she was delighted by the outcome: "This was never about the money. The vindication is the most important thing."

She said she was subjected to a "wholly unnecessary and unjustified symphysiotomy following the already safe delivery of my only child".

While she still suffers physical pain, she said she was now looking to get on with the rest of her life.

Her solicitor, Shane Coyle, said last night that other women who had symphysiotomies and are taking legal action could be "cautiously" hopeful. But he strongly advised that they needed to manage their expectations.

This is because Ms Kearney, of Castlebellingham, Co Louth, had a caesarean section before she had the symphysiotomy and only a minority of other women would have had both procedures.

Dublin solicitor Colm McGeehin, legal adviser to the group Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS), said around 160 other women are taking legal action and he will be studying the judgment.

The Supreme Court said yesterday that while Ms Kearney's injuries were very serious they were not of a scale to justify an award at the highest scale of general damages. That finding did not reflect in any way on Ms Kearney's "understated" testimony about what she suffered, the court stressed.

The "entire fault" for what occurred to Ms Kearney lay with the obstetrician who carried out the procedure, Dr Gerard Connolly, who has since died, "and no one else", it ruled.


The procedure "was wrong, even by the standards of the time" and there was "no rationale for it", Mr Justice John MacMenamin said. The other judges agreed.

The procedure was "unfathomable" by today's standards and even by the standards in 1969 had "no justification whatever".

Ms Kearney's son was delivered at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda on October 19, 1969. The symphysiotomy procedure was carried out afterwards. It left her in such a condition she could not get out of bed to see the baby until six days later when she was taken in a wheelchair to see him.

She did not know she had had a symphysiotomy until nearly 33 years later, in 2002, when she heard a radio programme discussion in which women described their experiences following such operations.

Irish Independent

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