Doctors hope report clarifies symphysiotomy ‘misinformation’

The country’s obstetricians welcomed the Harding Clark report into symphysiotomy saying it hopes it will clarify “misinformation” and show how doctors “act always to protect mother and baby”.

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Judge Maureen Harding Clark had found in her report that the symphysiotomies were generally carried out by doctors in the 1940s and 1950s as they posed a lesser long-term risk to mother and child than Caesarean sections. The author said she failed to find religious reasons for the procedure which involved cutting through the fibrous cartilage of the pubic joint so that a mother can deliver her baby more easily.

Chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Dr Peter Boylan said the report “should bring answers to some of the questions that may remain open for these women” and “clarify any misinformation”.

“Childbirth can often be a traumatic experience, both physically and mentally. Women deserve a sympathetic and objective assessment of their own individual experience,” he said.

In her report on the redress scheme, Judge Harding Clark blew apart many “assumptions” and “preconceptions” that had been made in and outside the media about symphysiotomies and the culture here from the 40s to the 80s.

  • The report author also said that a forensic examination of medical records failed to find a “religious as opposed to an obstetric reason” for symphysiotomies. But it found that symphysiotomy was used to permanently enlarge the pelvis of women so they could avoid multiple Caesarean sections which were an “obstetric dilemma” which could eventually put the health of mother and baby at risk. In the UK, women at that time used contraception after repeated sections or underwent tubal litigation (having tubes tied). But in Ireland, contraception wasn’t legally available and tubal litigation or vasectomy was not available in the Dublin maternity hospitals.
  • The report found that just a small number of applicants could provide “objective evidence” of a disability caused by the procedure, with many of the medical records highlighting conditions more associated with old age such as high blood pressure, strokes and cataracts.
  • In the “small number of applicants” who suffered pelvic pain and the larger number who had urinary issues, it was “not possible” to say if they were caused solely by the symphysiotomy or by prolonged labour, the use of forceps and the number of children they had given birth to — or even by the combination of all three.

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