There is a “clear risk” that severe injustices will result from the proposed destruction of the medical records of women who survived symphysiotomy by State’s redress scheme, lawyers for the women’s representative body have said.
About 730 women who applied to the scheme must indicate by Sunday, March 20th, whether they wish to have their records returned to them, or whether they wish them to be destroyed.
The assessor, retired judge Maureen Harding Clark, has indicated she proposes to begin shredding the records of women who applied to the scheme if they have not issued an instruction by the deadline.
Solicitors for Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS), which represents more than 350 women who are survivors of the procedure carried out during childbirth, called on the Data Protection Commissioner to “intervene decisively” to ensure no personal data belonging to the women is destroyed until they have been given adequate information.
FP Logue Solicitors wrote to the commissioner on Wednesday evening expressing concern that information will be destroyed against the applicants’ wishes and without their consent or knowledge.
"This would be a grave violation of their fundamental rights under European Union and international human rights law," the letter states.
“There is a clear risk that severe injustices will result from the assessor’s handling of information that will be required by the applicants for further legal action and international scrutiny of their treatment by the State.”
It notes that many of the women are elderly and may not have seen notices placed on the redress scheme’s website regarding the records.
The redress scheme holds documents belonging to nearly 750 women, up to 600 of whom are deemed to have undergone the controversial operation, which involved cutting the pelvic bone during childbirth.
The solicitor’s letter says it is “inexplicable” why the assessor is in such a rush to deal with these records in this way. Its client has “grave concerns regarding the handling of the entirety of the applicants’ information”.
It says the issue is sure to be scrutinised at the highest level in the European Union and internationally.
‘Guardian of privacy rights’
The solicitor’s letter says it is putting the Data Protection Commissioner on notice and calls on her as the “guardian of privacy rights”, to “intervene decisively” and ensure no personal data is destroyed until the issue is resolved.
A spokeswoman for the commissioner Helen Dixon said correspondence have been received and "will be considered".
SOS has now advised its members to make access requests for their records under the Data Protection Acts. It also appealed to Minister for Health Leo Varadkar to halt any destruction of the data.
Chair of SOS Marie O’Connor said there had been “a huge groundswell of support from lawyers, human rights activists, feminists, artists and others” for the group’s proposal that all records should be returned by post to all applicants and that their consent to archiving these data, anonymised upon request, should be sought.
About 2,000 signatures have been gathered online in a petition to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
More than 100 prominent artists have signed a letter published in The Irish Times stating the move to destroy the women's records is "another example of the ongoing, systemic mistreatment of women by the State".