Symphysiotomy survivors take torture case against State to United Nations
Group claims Government proposal for ex gratia redress scheme is unacceptable
At the symphysiotomy press conference in Dublin are (from left): Patricia McKenna, Kathy Sinnott, Marie O’Connor, Ailbhe Smyth of the National Women’s Council of Ireland and solicitor Colm Mac Geehin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
A group representing symphysiotomy survivors has written to the United Nations (UN) with a submission claiming that the State has violated the UN Convention against Torture for its failure to initiate an independent inquiry and restitution scheme for victims of the scandal.
Symphysiotomy was a procedure that was unnecessarily carried out on women in Ireland, mainly from the late-1940s to the mid-1960s. It involved the breaking of the woman’s pelvic bone during childbirth.
The procedure was gradually replaced by the Caesarean section, but evidence shows it was carried out in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, until 1984. About 1,500 women had the procedure, of whom some 150-224 are still alive.
The Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS), a group representing about 98 per cent of survivors, wrote to the UN Committee Against Torture and the UN Human Rights Committee on Monday with documents charging Ireland with violations of its obligations under international law.
The development comes following the Government’s move before Christmas to examine how the State might contribute to survivors by way of an ex gratia scheme that would not include an admission of guilt or liability on the part of the State.
The submission to the UN claims symphysiotomy constituted torture because “severe pain and suffering, both physical and mental, were intentionally inflicted on women and girls, for reasons based on discrimination”.
It also contends the procedures were “deliberately and knowingly perpetrated” and “in the absence of patient consent” by persons acting “in an official capacity . . . with the consent or acquiescence of public officials in the Department of Health”.
The UN complaint catalogues “the devastating, sometimes catastrophic, effects of these operations, showing how these effects, both physical and mental, were, and are, lifelong in very many cases”.
The submission includes the names of medical personnel involved in performing the procedures, hospitals where they were carried out and hears graphic testimonies from survivors.
It also claims the procedures were carried out for the purposes of “religious zealotry, medical experimentation and medical training”.
SoS chairwoman Marie O’Connor said the submission represented “a searing indictment” of the State’s involvement in the scandal.
“Survivors testify graphically to the extreme cruelty of these scheduled procedures, the excruciating pain of the surgery done wide awake, the agonising nature of these post-operative births and the often life- blighting consequences of the surgery,” she said.
“Under international law, victims have a right to an effective remedy. All the Government envisages for survivors is an ex gratia scheme that, by definition, is based on no admission of wrongdoing.
“No ex gratia scheme can meet the requirement for an effective remedy. Victims also have a right – that is enforceable – to proper restitution. This Government has no intention offering survivors fair and adequate compensation.”