Woman (71) settles action over symphysiotomy

Woman had sued Coombe hospital over 1963 operation

A 71-year-old woman who claimed there was no justification for the symphysiotomy carried out on her after the birth of her first baby more than 50 years ago has settled her High Court action.

The settlement was announced on the third day of the hearing before Mr Justice Kevin Cross.

The woman, from the midlands, had sued the Coombe hospital claiming there was no justification in any circumstance for the performance of a symphysiotomy on her following the safe delivery of her child by Caesarean section.

The case was the first of a number of cases before the courts being brought by women who had the procedure and was regarded as a test case.


Dr Ciaran Craven SC today announced the matter had been settled and could be struck out.

Mr Justice Cross welcomed the settlement and said it was a difficult case. He praised the courage of the woman in taking the case and wished her all the best for the future.


Outside court, the woman, flanked by her daughters, said she was glad it was all over and she wished all survivors of symphysiotomy well.

“I am a symphysiotomy survivor. I wish all survivors well. We can all learn from the past and move on,” she said as she thanked her family.

During her evidence to the court last week, the woman said she suffered severe pain, was incontinent and had never danced since she had the operation to break her pelvis after having her first baby when she was 19 years of age in 1963.

The court had heard the woman found out when looking at a television programme in 2012 about symphysiotomy. It was argued the decision of a symphysiotomy in her case was unacceptable and unjustified after the baby was safely delivered.

It was also claimed the procedure was never discussed with the mother. The hospital claimed the proceedings were statute barred and denied all claims.


The Survivors of Symphysiotomy group hailed the settlement as a victory for the plaintiff and for its members. Chairwoman Marie O’Connor said it also represented a defeat for the Government, “whose payment scheme was intended to head off litigation”.

The Government published details of its redress scheme for survivors of symphysiotomy in November, with three levels of award to applicants climbing from €50,000 to €100,000 and €150,000.

“With up to 200 such actions being taken by our members, Survivors of Symphysiotomy looks forward to a successful resolution of this issue, with judgments, settlements well in excess of the Government’s utterly inadequate scheme,” Ms O’Connor said.

Sheila O’Connor of Patient Focus, which also represents survivors, also welcomed the outcome saying it was up to individuals which avenue to pursue, whether through the courts or the redress scheme.

However, she said the ultimate achievement of the settlement was somewhat obscured by the lack of judgment. “It’s not open and transparent and [there is] no public settlement,” she said.