Symphysiotomy survivors submit petition to TDs

Campaign group has collected more than 22,000 signatures

Mairin O'Moore and her daughter Eilin O'Moore from the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group present a petition to Senator Jillian Van Turnout and Sinn Fein’s Caoimhghin O Caolain from the all party support group at Leinster House in Dublin. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Mairin O'Moore and her daughter Eilin O'Moore from the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group present a petition to Senator Jillian Van Turnout and Sinn Fein’s Caoimhghin O Caolain from the all party support group at Leinster House in Dublin. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Fri, Apr 5, 2013, 15:43

A campaign group for women who underwent a discredited childbirth procedure has presented a petition to Oireachtas members, calling on the Dáil to enable survivors to seek compensation.

Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caolain, acting on behalf of a cross-party group, will introduce a private members’ bill later this month to set aside the statute bar preventing women who underwent symphysiotomies from getting restitution.

The procedure was carried out on about 1,500 women in the State mostly between the 1960s and 1980s. It involved sawing a pregnant or labouring woman’s pubic bone in half to open the birth canal, theoretically easing the baby’s passage. But it left the majority of the women permanently injured, with ongoing back pain, incontinence and difficulties walking.

Currently those who underwent the operation are time-barred from seeking redress. Survivors of Symphysiotomy wants the statute bar lifted so the estimated 200 survivors can receive compensation.

“They need to be able to litigate these cases without being held up by points of procedure that are related to time,” said the group’s chairwoman Marie O’Connor.

“The fact is that these operations in many cases took place 40 years ago and it’s quite difficult to take action after such a long time so setting aside the statute bar is actually the only thing the Dáil can do in a practical way to assist survivors of symphysiotomies.”

Ms O’Connor said while “no money on earth could make up for the suffering and the lives lost”, full restitution would constitute an acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

Máirín O’Moore, who underwent the “nightmare” procedure in 1950 said she hoped the petition “would be a start” to ensuring victims got compensated.

The campaigners have argued that if the statute bar could be set aside to allow victims of child sexual abuse seek redress then the same could be done for survivors of symphysiotomies. “There are no floodgates, only 200 or so mainly elderly women, standing, waiting, for justice,” the group said.

The campaign has collected over 22,000 signatures from around the world including those of some 450 doctors in support of lifting the bar. One signatory, Prof SA Dobson from St Andrew’s University in Scotland said symphysiotomy was “a stain on Irish medicine that needs righting”.

Speaking outside Leinster House, Mr Ó Caolain said it was very important that every effort was made to ensure the “sadly ever depreciating number of victims” receive closure.

“We are going to convey this to the Minister for Health Dr James Reilly as a further appeal to the Government… that justice is done both in terms of recognising the agony that was visited upon them and the fact that for all these years, despite their best campaigning, a succession of governments has failed to properly recognise its duty on behalf of all the people of this country.”