It is roughly fourteen years on since a report which exposed the practice of symphysiotomy procedures in Ireland. More often than not these surgical procedures were performed on people who were unaware the procedure had taken place.
Within these fourteen years, alot of debate has occurred, an inquiry sought, a report commissioned, a petition signed by doctors and the mobilisation of survivor groups.
Now, the government has asked a Judge to examine the possibility of a compensation redress scheme. The Judge is tasked with trying to find a solution after meeting survivor representatives, the State Claims Agency, insurers and indemnifiers. It is believed that this process will be concluded by February, 2014 and the government will have the report by then.
Initially, the government showed encouraging signs of supporting a Statute of Limitations Bill which would ensure that the normal statutory time limit would not apply to a woman who has had symphysiotomy carried out. They have subsequently rowed back from this.
Symphysiotomy is a surgical procedure which severs a woman’s pelvis to allow childbirth.
Sometimes, this procedure was performed before a mother went into labour.
Some women received the surgery days or weeks before their due date. Sometimes, the surgery was performed during the day of the labour. Sometimes, it was performed during labour.
On other occasions, this procedure was performed after a baby had been delivered by caesarean section.
The myriad of forms of physical and psychological damage as a result of this procedure was and is colossal.
Pre & or Post Surgery
One of the greatest difficulties in relation to the administration of the symphysiotomy procedure was the fact that it was performed more often than not without the knowledge and/or consent of the birthing mother.
A lack of information, knowledge and consent seems common place. Many women didn’t know what procedure was being undertaken at the time or even afterwards.
Sometimes, decades elapsed before the women even knew their pelvises were broken. The media has undoubtedly played a role in piecing the jigsaw together for many women who had no idea what had happened to them.
Symphysiotomy was performed on 1,500 women in Ireland during the 1940s right up until 1992. This procedure had almost been completely abandoned in other countries. In Ireland, a resurgence of this procedure occurred.
During this time, it seems clear, hospitals and medical professionals did not have any guidelines or protocols to follow in relation to obtaining consent for symphysiotomy. It would appear that the patients’ consent operated on the basis of being implied when they crossed the threshold into the hospital.
Lots of women then in turn, were completely unaware of any post-symphysiotomy care. There were protocols to help and advise the mothers how to heal from the operation but as seems evident, these were not consistently followed.
Case before the Courts
In one notable case which came before the courts, the court stated the surgery was ‘’deeply flawed’’ and it was ‘’entirely unjustified’’.
In this case the symphysiotomy was performed after the mother had safely given birth.
The Time is Now
The government has now appointed Judge Murphy to engage with representatives of the survivors, the State Claims Agency, insurers, indemnifiers and parties involved.
The aim is to seek to establish a compensation redress scheme. The Judge is tasked with formulating a report which is due by February, 2014. If the insurance companies agree to a compensation fund, the government may also contribute to the fund.
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