Symphysiotomy records


Sir, – Surely a nation’s maturity can be judged in proportion to its willingness to allow its archives and records to reflect the realities, both good and bad, of its past so that those archives and records may bear witness, and so that they may be learned from.

As we now know, between 1944 and 1987 some 1,500 women underwent symphysiotomies in Irish hospitals without consent. The symphysiotomy payment scheme’s proposal to shred the obstetric and medical records of the hundreds of women who submitted their records to the redress scheme is not just wrong-headed and insensitive. It is regressive and it suggests a historical and cultural blindness at best woefully ironic in a nation purporting to commemorate its centenary.

If, in the National Archives, we can retain 1950s issues of the Irish Housewife Annual, and the vanity correspondence of successive taoisigh and presidents, we can surely do better than to allow the destruction of these documents, which were submitted to the State in good faith and which tell truths as vital as they are painful.

They should be returned to their owners to use as they wish, and, if those owners should so choose and consent (the key words, as it seems we need to be reminded over and over), perhaps copies of these records, anonymised upon request, could be archived for future public access and research. They comprise a real part of this country’s history. “Commemoration,” as president Mary Robinson pointed out in 1995, “is a moral act”.

The destruction of these documents, and of the difficult realities they contain, would be an act of exactly the opposite kind.

– Yours, etc,



New York.