Sunday 18 March 2018

Symphysiotomy test case fails at High Court in blow to survivors

Maria O'Connor of Survivors of Symphysiotomy
Maria O'Connor of Survivors of Symphysiotomy
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

A test case for women who had their pelvises broken during childbirth, in a controversial procedure known as symphysiotomy, has failed at the High Court.

Dozens of supporters gathered at the Four Courts yesterday as a 74-year-old woman, who claimed she suffered life-long pain after a symphysiotomy was performed on her 12 days before the birth of her baby in 1963, had her claim dismissed.

The case, which was heard in the High Court over 15 days, is expected to be appealed. In his judgment, Mr Justice Kevin Cross described the woman as a remarkable lady whose story deserved to be told and said he would have taken "hold of twig or twine-thread" to uphold her case. But Judge Cross said "the practice of prophylactic symphysiotomy in 1963 was not a practice without justification" and found against the woman, who has requested anonymity.

The judge said symphysiotomy was a controversial practice but it was also strongly defended and the strength of the defence made it impossible for the plaintiff to prove her case.

The woman claimed she suffered life-long pain following the procedure and could not bond with her baby daughter after the birth because she was in such pain she could not even lift the child out of her cot. She said she felt very disillusioned, later had a nervous breakdown and "took to her bed" for a time.

In her action, the woman alleged she had a non-emergency symphysiotomy which left her with life-long pain, incontinence and restricted mobility.

Judge Cross said he had concluded that, in Dublin maternity hospitals in 1963, it was accepted that trial of labour was not always required for a consultant to conclude a vaginal delivery would not be possible. In those cases, prophylactic symphysiotomy, as was performed in this case, was "a reasonable, though limited" option. Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS), which represents up to 400 women living in Ireland and abroad who had the procedure, said a redress scheme agreed by the Government for women who underwent symphysiotomy does not provide an acceptable alternative remedy for many survivors.

"On the contrary, many of our members are experiencing its administration as capricious and lacking in consistency", said Marie O'Connor of the SoS.

"The scheme places little or no value on survivor testimony and refuses to accept reports from independent medical reports unless these reports are supported by 50-year-old medical records generated by doctors, many of whom are now deceased."

Mark Kelly, executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), criticised what the organisation described as the ongoing absence of effective remedies for women subjected to "this barbaric practice".

"The onus remains on the State to ensure that, in all cases in which women allege that they have been subjected to degrading treatment of this nature, an effective investigation takes place and a remedy is provided," said Mr Kelly. "The case for a full independent inquiry into the practice of Symphysiotomy can only be bolstered by today's events in the High Court".

Irish Independent

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