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Adams calls for full Public Inquiry into Symphysiotomy as practiced in Irish hospitals

20 April, 2011 - by Gerry Adams TD


Sinn Fein President and Louth and East Meath TD Gerry Adams today secured an adjournment debate in the Dáil for this evening on the issue of Symphysiotomy.

Text of SO 21 request

“The need for the Minister for Health to establish a full Public Inquiry into the practice of Symphysiotomies in Irish hospitals under the care the state. Gerry Adams.”

Speaking during this evenings debate Deputy Adams said:

“There are a series of scandals involving the health service in Ireland and which have a particular resonance in County Louth.
The allegations of abuse surrounding Consultant Surgeon Michael Shine in Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda is one which this Minister and previous Ministers have failed to deal with properly or humanely.

Successive Ministers of Health have failed to provide the victims with the information and closure they require and deserve and the Minister’s recent decision not to hold an inquiry into Shine allegations must be reversed.
The treatment of pregnant women through the use of

Symphysiotomies while in labour is also a scandal that demands redress.

At least 1500 Symphysiotomies were carried out on women in this state between 1944 and 1984 at a time when the rest of the medical profession outside of Ireland were using caesarean sections.
Symphysiotomy is an 18th century operation that unhinges the pelvis, splitting the pubic joint and its ligaments with a scalpel knife. Another version of this operation, called pubiotomy severs the bone rather than the joint. This results in a compound fracture of the pelvis.

Patients were rarely asked for their consent and most were never told of the nature of the surgery or its risks or offered the safer alternative of a caesarean section.

The consequence for the victim of this procedure was often chronic pain, incontinence and a lifetime of medical intervention. One child in ten died.
Increasing age has meant that many of the women who were subjected to this barbarous practice have difficulty walking.

Survivors of Symphysiotomy is a group that has brought together almost 200 women, now mainly in their 60s and older, who have been the victims of this brutal surgery.
I have met with them and their accounts of how they were treated in hospital and what was done to them is horrific.

These women want truth. They have looked to a succession of Health Ministers to provide it through the establishment of a full public inquiry.
A promised review of the practice by the Fianna Fáil Health Minister Micheál Martin in 2003 was never established.

Minister Harney refused to establish an inquiry.
She did ask the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to prepare areport concerning the practice of symphysiotomy in Ireland.

However, this report was not progressed. In a written reply to my colleague Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin last month the new Minister avoided answering the question about establishing a public inquiry.
Minister Reilly said that he understood that efforts are progressing to put in place alternative arrangements with the assistance of a University of Public Health.

Can the Minister specify what ‘alternative arrangements’ means?

The hundreds of women grievously hurt physically and emotionally by this practice have not received the help and support they have a right to expect.

In his capacity as opposition Health spokesperson Minister Reilly gave his full support to the victim’s demand for a public inquiry at the Oireachtas Committee Hearing in 2009.
As the Minister of Health he now as the opportunity to accomplish what he asked Minister Harney to do.

I understand that the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group has asked to meet with the Minister and have offered their full co-operation, in an open and dignified manner, for what would be a hugely difficult and emotional experience of telling their stories in public.

I would ask the Minister to agree to meet with the group as quickly as possible and to tell them that he will establish a full Public Inquiry into the practice of Symphysiotomies in Irish hospitals under the care the state. “

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