Shredding symphysiotomy records

 

Sir, – The Symphysiotomy Payment Scheme announced on its website this week that it will be “happy” to shred records, if applicants are so minded, or in the alternative, return them. The UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern that symphysiotomy was performed in Ireland without patient consent from 1944-1987, and cited Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and involuntary medical experimentation. The committee ruled that Ireland should, inter alia, “initiate a prompt, independent and thorough investigation into cases of symphysiotomy” and “prosecute and punish the perpetrators, including medical personnel”. Obstetric records that could potentially be destroyed may be some claimants’ only proof that they were subjected to the surgery. Many notes record the name of those who participated in these involuntary operations.

There is no guarantee that these records will be accessible in the future to investigators, researchers or even to claimants themselves. To shred these data after March 20th, as proposed, is therefore to destroy material that will be needed in any future inquiry (or research) into symphysiotomy.

Survivors are continuing to press for an inquiry with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. A further submission has been made by them to the UN Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review, a framework under which Ireland will be assessed in May of this year, and a complaint to the UN Committee Against Torture is due for examination in 2017.

Informed consent is also an issue. Applicants who do not seek the return of their obstetric records are not being informed that they may be not be retrievable from their hospitals of origin. Indeed, the Department of Health has recently given public assurances to the contrary, stating that “medical records cannot be lost by any action of the scheme”. Hospital data storage limitations suggest that this is not the case.

We urge Judge Harding Clark to reconsider her decision and return all records to all applicants by post, as per the scheme’s terms of reference. – Yours, etc,

DR SARAH-ANNE BUCKLEY,

Department of History,

NUIG;

DR FIONA BUCKLEY,

Department of Government,

UCC;

PROF LINDA CONNOLLY,

Institute for Social Science

in the 21st Century, UCC;

PROF MARY DONNELLY,

School of Law, UCC;

MAIREAD ENRIGHT,

Law School,

University of Kent;

DR NOELLE HIGGINS,

Department of Law,

Maynooth University;

MARK KELLY,

Executive Director,

Irish Council

for Civil Liberties;

PROF KATHLEEN LYNCH,

Equality Studies, UCD;

FRED LOGUE,

Solicitor;

DR JO

MURPHY-LAWLESS,

School of Nursing

and Midwifery, TCD;

PROF JOAN LALOR,

School of Nursing

and Midwifery, TCD;

PROF PATRICIA LUNDY,

School of Sociology and Applied Social Studies, University of Ulster;

PROF LOUISE KENNY

Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

CUMH;

PROF IRENE LYNCH FANNON,

School of Law, UCC;

DR MARY McAULIFFE,

School of Social Policy,

Social Work

and Social Justice, UCD;

DR JOAN McCARTHY,

School of Nursing

and Midwifery, UCC;

DR CLAIRE McGING,

Department of Geography,

Maynooth University;

DR JACQUELINE MORRISSEY

Historian;

DARAGH O’BRIEN,

KATHERINE O’KEEFE,

Data specialists,

Castlebridge Associates;

MARIE O’CONNOR,

Chairwoman,

Survivors of Symphysiotomy.