Sympathy offered over birth procedure


THE INSTITUTE of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has offered its unreserved sympathy to women who have suffered as a result of controversial symphysiotomy operations.

However, the group said the operation appeared at the time to offer a method of safe birth in some cases of obstructed labour in mothers with contracted pelvis.

It said that due to moral beliefs, contraception was ethically unacceptable and illegal, while Caesarean section was considered too risky both for mothers and infants for many years.

The institute’s statement follows the official publication yesterday of a draft report commissioned by the Department of Health on the use of symphysiotomy between 1944 and 1984.

It is estimated that up to 1,500 women underwent symphysiotomies, an operation to widen the pelvis during childbirth, which has since been linked with lifelong health problems among many women such as incontinence, chronic pain and mobility problems.

Support groups such as Patient Focus and Survivors of Symphysiotomy have criticised aspects of the report and say it left out the opinions of women who underwent these procedures.

Patient Focus has recommended that funds from a settlement due as a result of protracted discussions between the State and the Medical Defence Union should be used to provide redress for victims.

“In this way we can finally draw this very sad story to a dignified and just conclusion for all the hurt women and their families,” the group said.

The group Survivors of Symphysiotomy added that the report was an “apologia” for the operation and veiled the fact that it was a discarded and discredited operation until it was “exhumed” in Ireland in the mid-1940s.

The Department of Health yesterday said the report was the first stage in a two-part process and that the views of women and other interested parties would be considered as part of a consultation process over the coming months.

In its statement, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the operation was an “exceptional and rare intervention” in obstetric practice in Ireland, occurring in fewer than 0.05 per cent of all deliveries between 1940 and 1985.

The group said the persistence of symphysiotomy in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda until 1984 was outside of normal practice. It added that symphysiotomies performed “on the way out” at Caesarean section – or carried out as an elective procedure before labour – were found to be deviations from good practice.

“Symphysiotomy was only valid as a specific response to the clinical problem of mild to moderation obstruction in labour,” it said.