| 12.4°C Dublin

How did we let these barbaric doctors get away with it?

"YOU ask me if I have a God complex? Let me tell you something. I AM God."

Alec Baldwin's depiction of the flawed surgeon in the film Malice is, of course, a work of fiction.

Yet in Ireland, truth is often stranger, and sometimes more disturbing, than fiction. Many women in this country are to this day undergoing terrible suffering as a result of some doctors trying to play God.

We have already witnessed the terrible fall-out from the Neary scandal. To this, we must now add the symphysiotomy scandal, where young and vulnerable women were put through a barbaric surgical procedure around the time of childbirth for dubious reasons.

The procedure, which dates back to the 18th century, was reintroduced into Ireland in the mid-1940s at a time when it was dying out in medicine in the developed world.

The drastic operation to widen the pelvis in obstructed labour was performed on nearly 1,500 women around the time of birth, leaving many of them incontinent, in pain and suffering from depression for the rest of their lives.

So far, around 110 victims of symphysiotomy have come forward, and there may be many more suffering in silence.

Symphysiotomy was reportedly used to ensure women could continue to have several children, whereas a Caesarean section might have limited the number of children they could bear.

It was feared by some "medical mullahs" that facing the alternative of repeated caesareans, women would turn to birth control.

Those carrying out the procedure appeared to ignore its serious after-effects.

It is the same type of professional arrogance and breach of trust that brought us the Neary scandal. SOS, the group representing the victims, says claims by the Department of Health, based on previous advice from the Institute of Obstetricians, that symphysiotomies were a preferred option as there were risks of infection from caesareans, do not really stand up.

The group says this risk did not exist, as doctors had access to antibiotics from the 1940s onwards where women had Caesareans.

SOS also says symphysiotomies, despite what was claimed, did not even make future births any easier for the women who had the operation.

Reading about and hearing the experiences of women who had this operation, mostly without their knowledge, you can see it as part of a disturbing picture the dysfunctional nature of our State and society, and the misuse of power by those who were in positions of trust.

We have seen too many examples in our history of the misuse of power and influence in Irish society, from the horrors of the institutional abuse, to an authoritarian medical establishment, to political corruption, to a banking elite bleeding the economy dry.

Some day, someone will properly psychoanalyse us as a nation and society to find out exactly why we put up with so much for so long.

Ireland's health service today may be relatively safer and relatively free from the type of professional arrogance that brought us the Neary and symphysiotomy scandals, yet the victims of wrong or misguided actions from the recent past are still very much with us.

The Government is still dithering on the issue of having a proper inquiry into symphysiotomy practice, which should really be done by experts from outside Ireland.

The proposed review to be organised by the Institute of Obstetricians is inappropriate and does not go far enough. The affected women need a fully independent review, an apology and some form of redress.


Privacy