154,972 registered members
'Harney should go on barbaric op issue'
[Posted: Fri 19/02/2010 by Niall Hunter, Editor www.irishhealth.com]
The Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) group today called for Health Minister Mary Harney to be sacked if she does not order an independent review of a controversial surgical procedure which left hundreds of women disabled.
Symphysiotomies were widely carried out in maternity units in Ireland between the early 1940s and the early 1980s. The procedure involves permanently widening the pelvis by surgically dividing the symphysis pubis, where the pubic bones come together.
The calls come following a Prime Time special on RTE last night which revealed that symphysiotomies were widespread here between 1944 and 1983. The programme also revealed that Ireland was the only country in the developed world where the procedure was widely practised in the 20th century.
At a press conference today organised by SOS, symphysiotomy was described as a "brutal and cruel treatment from the darkest ages", and the practice was described as "institutionalised abuse of women."
It is estimated it may have been carried out on around 1,500 women.
Around 111 women who were victims of symphysiotomy have come forward to date, and there are expected to be many more women suffering for years from the serious side effects of the procedure, which include extreme pain, incontinence and depression. Around 1,500 women are estimated to have had the procedure.
The SOS group claims the procedure was carried out in Ireland when it had long ceased in other countries. It is reported that it ceased in Holles Street Hospital in the mid-1960s, although there have been claims that it continued there until the early 1970s.
Symphysiotomies continued in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda until 1983.
It is believed that the procedure was encouraged by Catholic obstetricians as a birth-facilitating alternative to caesarean section, as it was believed that women facing repeated caesareans for future births might be tempted to use contraception.
Ailbhe Smyth of the National Women's Council of Ireland told the press conference she believed the practice of carrying out this procedure was a crime. "There can't be any normal person who would not weep to hear these women's experiences."
Colm MacGeehin, solicitor to over 100 symphysiotomy survivors seeking redress, said there was a deafening silence emanating from Government on the symphysiotomy issue. He said the Minister should resign due to her lack of action.
He said previous Health Minister Micheal Martin promised an independent review of the symphysiotomy controversy in 2003 but this never took place.
A briefing document from the Department of Health to the Oireachtas Health Committee last week stated that various obstetric experts from outside Ireland suggested by both SOS and the Department to carry out an independent review were not acceptable to one side or another.
Mr MacGeehin said one UK expert, Roger Clements, proposed by SOS, was turned down by the Department because he had not published any papers on symphysiotomy. However, Mr MacGeehin said that this was not a valid excuse as symphysiotomies were not extensively done outside Ireland, so therefore no papers could have been written.
Two other experts suggested by the Department were unacceptable to SOS as the experts suggested were regarded as pro-symphysiotomy. Mr MacGeehin said a list of four further experts suggested recently by SOS had not been responded to by the Department.
Mr MacGeehin said symphysiotomy was reintroduced into Ireland in the mid-1940s, due to fears that the alternative of repeated caesareans would lead to women practising birth control.
This was at a time when the practice of symphysiotomy was dying out in other countries,
He said it had also been used to demonstrate to students how to widen the birth canal. Mr MacGeehin added that claims by the Department of Health that it had been a reasonable treatment option in its day with successful results were untrue.
Mr MacGeehin said there had not been a single successful outcome and every woman who had the procedure had been crippled. He rejected claims by the Department that it had arranged to provide all the necessary medical services and supports to the victims of symphysiotomy.
Marie O'Connor, spokesperson for SOS, said a 2001 letter from the Institute of Obstetricians to the Department of Health "totally misrepresented the true position on this abusive surgery."
She claimed it was not true, as the Institute had suggested, that symphysiotomy was common for obstructed labour from the 1920s to the 1960s. It was in fact brought back into Ireland in the 1940s by the then Master of Holles Street, who was against birth control, but was never the norm in the developed world in the 20th century.
Ms O'Connor claimed the Institute's statement that the operation widened the pelvis and enable future normal births was not true. "One women had to have three caesarean sections after having a symphysiotomy. It severed the pelvis and all that was left was scar tissue."
She also said the Institute's assertion that caesarean section in the past would have been regarded as dangerous due a lack of of available antibiotics did not stand up, as since the 1940s antibiotics became more widely available to deal with sepsis.
Ms O'Connor claimed the operation was a form of institutional abuse of women when they were at their most vulnerable. It had been carried out before, during and after childbirth.
Kathleen Naughton from Co Meath, who had had a symphysiotomy 33 years ago and is still suffering from severe after-effects, said she felt "evil" had hit her body.
"If Mary Harney was in my body for one day we would have the review the next day."
The press conference was told that what was needed now was a full apology to the women who were victims of symphysiotomy, and a full independent review. SOS said the Minister had now refused four times to hold an independent inquiry and it claimed the advice from the Institute of Obstetricians on which these decisions were made has been discredited.
SOS wants Taoiseach Brian Cowen to initiate an immediate inquiry into the procedure and said if the Health Minister will not now order a review she should be removed from office.
In response to the Prime Time programme, the Department of Heath has said the Minister had not changed he mind since 2003, when she said she did not consider a review would be of benefit.
The Department said based on the facts and advice available to the Minister it would not be productive now to have a review. The Department pointed out that previous attempts to appoint an independent reviewer were unsuccessful.
Read a symphysiotomy victim's story here
See also Institute of Obstetricians' statement here
|anony Posted: 19/02/2010 22:40|
If Mary Harney was in a whole lot of other bodies too she would begin to understand what she has imposed on the people of this country. What makes her think she is God, because in my book she is acting as if she were god.
|Vee Posted: 02/03/2010 16:09|
I do not undertand why this woman is in office.
What has she done to benefit this country?(This is a question rather than an accusation)
How she can do this, as a woman, as a human, is beyond me. Why not face up to things, deal with them and allow everyone involved to gain some closure?
|buzz Posted: 03/03/2010 11:48|
"It is believed that the procedure was encouraged by Catholic obstetricians as a birth-facilitating alternative to caesarean section, as it was believed that women facing repeated caesareans for future births might be tempted to use contraception."
Religion laying down the law for women as usual.
|janzone62 Posted: 05/03/2010 12:16|
I first read about this procedure two weeks ago and was shocked to say the least. I had never heard of it before and cannot believe that something so barbaric was carried out on unsuspecting women! And to add to their pain, they have now appear to have been ignored. Who is Mary Harney afraid of not to take this matter further?
|anony Posted: 05/03/2010 17:00|
She would not like to offend certain people who might be involved or called to give evidence. There would also be a huge bill on the taxpayer to pay compensation to those who have suffered so much by this barbaric surgery. That would reduce what she would have at her disposal when going to trips abroad.
|Portia Posted: 12/01/2011 23:29|
Mary Harney is clearly unable to tune into these women and empathise.
Everyone in Drogheda knew about the barbarity endured by women in the birth process and that many went to the North to have their babies in a more humane way. Gosh I can still hear them nuns screaming at us to suffer for the sin of having sex- and we were the married ones. I also witnessed the most inhumane treatment and abuse of unmarried mothers in that so called hospital.
So now, let us own up to our past ways and admit that we were wrong and compensate the disabled women.
|To join the discussion, register by clicking here|