Pioneering midwife Philomena Canning dies

Promoter of home births had a long running legal dispute with the HSE

Independent midwife Philomena Canning is pictured outside the Four Court in Dublin with a group of supporters.

Independent midwife Philomena Canning is pictured outside the Four Court in Dublin with a group of supporters.


Midwife Philomena Canning, who championed the rights of pregnant women to choose to give birth at home and in non-medical settings, has died.

Ms Canning, who had been involved in a long-running legal dispute with the Health Service Executive (HSE), died at St Vincent’s Private hospital on Friday. She had been ill with cancer.

Ms Canning was a thorn in the side of obstetrician-led maternity services and the health establishment for more than 20 years and was suing the HSE for damages for incorrectly depriving her of her right to work for over three years.

In 2014, weeks after she submitted a detailed submission to the HSE to open two home-birth centres in Dublin, her indemnity insurance was withdrawn without notice.

Two cases concerning alleged risks involving women she had woked with had come to the attention of the HSE. Neither of the two women had complained and both were happy with Ms Canning’s care.

Although her indemnity was restored in February 2015 she could not practice until the HSE carried out a systems analysis.


Her midwifery practices were exonerated by independent experts and she was free to return to practice in 2016 but by then, she said, she had “lost everything”.

She initiated her damages case in late 2015 and said the discovery of documents “had to be dragged and extracted from the HSE”.

She initially recovered from a diagnosis of ovarian cancer last year but it returned and spread to her abdomen. At that point she expressed a desire to bring the dispute with the HSE to a close and instructed her lawyers to accept its latest offer.

“The reality is I am going to die,” she said. “I have no problem dying. It’s normal. But what is ringing in my ears is ‘rest in peace’. I couldn’t possibly rest in peace, I cannot go to my grave without this resolved.

“They have hounded me, made my life hell since 2014. I just ask now to be able to relax. It’s a simple thing to ask - to go my grave in peace.”

Midwives for Choice said it was “deeply saddened” to learn of Ms Canning’s death.

“We are deeply saddened to share the news of the passing of our beloved midwife and MfC founder Philomena Canning, who died peacefully in St Vincent’s Private Hospital last night after difficult illness,” it said in a tweet.

Ms Canning’s requiem Mass takes place on Monday at 10am in St Mary’s, Star of the Sea, Sandymount, Dublin. Her funeral Mass will take place on Tuesday at 11am at St Mary’s, Star of the Sea, Glenvar, Co Donegal.

She is survived by her siblings Mairead, Mary, Noel, James, Anne-Colette, Malachy and Oonagh, and her extended family and friends.