Survivors reject symphysiotomy report


A group representing victims of symphysiotomy has resolved not to co-operate with a Government report on the issue. Its members say they will run their own consultation process.

About 150 victims of symphysiotomy, as well as husbands and adult children of victims, from across the State attended an extraordinary general meeting of the Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) organisation in Dublin today where the first section of the controversial Walsh report was discussed.

The report, by Professor Oonagh Walsh of UCC, was commissioned last year by Government into the practice of performing symphisiotomies on pregnant and labouring women between the 1940s and 1980s in Ireland. It was published last week.

Symphysiotomies entailed the pregnant and/or labouring woman having her pubic bone sawn in half to open the birth canal and so, in theory, making the baby’s passage into the world easier.

The Walsh report finds the procedure was used at a time when Caesarean sections were regarded as a safer option for women experiencing difficulties in labour. It finds their use was heavily influenced by Catholic teaching forbidding contraception. Following a Caesarean a woman is advised to have no more than two further pregnancies, limiting the number of children she could have.

The procedure left the majority of women permanently injured, with ongoing back pain, incontinence and difficulties walking.

At today’s meeting, to which Prof Walsh was invited but did not attend, the report was heavily criticised.

Particularly criticised were Prof Walsh’s conclusions that symphysiotomies had been considered appropriate in emergencies and that many of the women who had them were malnourished and physically unfit.

There was also anger that she had not interviewed any of the women for the report, though Prof Walsh says this will happen for the second phase.

The resolutions made at today's meeting were:

  - that SOS repudiates in their totality all of the key findings of the Walsh report.

 - that SOS urge the Minister for Health to abandon all further consideration of the Walsh report consultation process and that he publicly support the call of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, to the Minister for Justice to set aside the statute of limitations and clear the path for victims to obtain justice this year, and,

 - that SOS runs its own consultation process on the Walsh report, that all members will channel their views through the national executive and that no part will be taken by members in the Department's so-called consultation process.

Prof Walsh said this evening she had not attended the meeting as she felt other women, not affiliated to SOS, should have been there too.

“My primary concern is that every woman has the opportunity to make her comments in a supportive and respectful environment, and to assure all contributors that their responses are both appreciated and valued.

“I have organized meetings at three locations nationally, and registration can be made by phone at 045880400, from 11am to 2pm, Monday to Friday.”