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18th Mar 2016

Symphysiotomy Survivors Are Urging The Government Not To Shred Medical Records

Ellen Tannam

A symphysiotomy was a controversial procedure which often occurred during childbirth in Ireland in past decades without the consent of the mother.

The woman’s pelvic bone would be cut to widen the birth canal to make childbirth easier, however, it had a devastating effect on the women who received the procedure.

According to SOS (Survivors Of Symphysiotomy Ireland):

“Ireland was the only country in the world to do these childbirth operations in preference to Caesarean section. Religious ideology and medical ambition drove the surgery.”

“An estimated 1,500 women and girls, some as young as 14, had their pelvises severed, gratuitously, by senior doctors who believed in childbearing without limitation. Life-long disability, chronic pain, mental suffering and family breakdown followed.”

Recipients of this procedure were victims of conditions from incontinence, chronic pain, depression, and severe walking difficulties.

Currently, Maureen Harding Clark (the person who assessed whether women are entitled to compensation if they received the procedure) is planning on shredding applicants unclaimed medical records. Her belief is that they are just general records of a practice that was universally accepted at the time, so there is no need for them to remain.

However, SOS argue that these records “…constitute an overwhelming body of evidence of human rights abuses.”, and legal challenges in future could be frustrated if these are destroyed.

Symphysiotomies were not safe procedures and: “…in 2014, the UN Human Rights Committee found the practice of the surgery constituted involuntary medical experimentation involving torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

“To destroy unclaimed records is to compound the silencing of symphysiotomy survivors.” We have already seen the deliberate destruction of records in institutional schools, Magdalene laundries, psychiatric and general hospitals.

“Enough is enough. As well as returning all records to all applicants by post, the assessor should now seek their informed consent to archiving them so they can be made available as an integral collection for future investigators and researchers. Justice and history require no less.”

If you want justice for these women, their petition is here.

To learn more about symphysiotomy in Ireland, click here.

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