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Ó Caoláin calls for inquiry into 'barbaric' symphysiotomy procedures

18 June, 2003


Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin during Leaders Questions in Leinster House today called on the Taoiseach to support an inquiry in to the medical practice of symphysiotomy that was carried out in hospitals from the 1950s to the 1980s. The Cavan Monaghan deputy described it as a 'barbaric practice' that 'destroyed the health of many women'.

Deputy Ó Caoláin asked: "Is the Taoiseach aware of the growing numbers of women now coming forward who are survivors of a barbaric practice carried out in Irish hospitals up until the early 1980s? This procedure, known as symphysiotomy, was inflicted on some 348 women in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, from the early '50s up to 1982. It was also carried out in the National Maternity and Coombe Hospitals in Dublin. My words are grossly inadequate to convey the true sense of the hurt and suffering of these women whose pelvises were sawn through during or after labour.

Is the Taoiseach aware that this procedure, while ostensibly done to deal with obstructed births, was inflicted on women primarily because the hospitals operated under a so-called Catholic ethos whereby surgeons deemed such operations preferable to caesarean sections, after which it was thought women would use contraception or be sterilised to avoid further sections? Is the Taoiseach aware that symphysiotomy was a crippling operation which destroyed the health of many women? Is he aware that such operations were carried out without the knowledge or consent of women, and in some cases, even after the birth of their babies, and will he therefore accede to the request of the survivors for an inquiry and resources to research and fund corrective procedures?"

Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said: "When my colleague Deputy Morgan last raised this issue in the House, Minister of State Lenihan simply repeated the statement made by the Institute of Obstericians and Gynaecologists of May 2001. They actually praised the procedure and acknowledged no questions or doubts about its use over a very long period with devastating health consequences for hundreds of women. The Taoiseach has done the same again and offered no independent government view.

"Will the Government at the very least acknowledge the suffering of these women and take into account their pain and their rights, as well as the views of the medical profession? Are we not gone past the days when members of that profession were never to be questioned or challenged? Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Health and Children to accede to the request of Survivors of Sympysiotomy for a meeting and will he support an inquiry?" ENDS

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