Report to back €34m payout to symphysiotomy victims

A long-awaited Government report into “barbaric” operations on thousands of pregnant women between the 1940s and 1984 will recommend at least €34m in State payouts to victims when it is published today.

Health Minister Simon Harris will seek Government approval for the publication of the two-year investigation into the scale of symphysiotomies during the weekly cabinet meeting this morning.

The report, by former High Court judge Maureen Harding Clark, was commissioned by Mr Harris’s predecessor Leo Varadkar in late 2014 in a bid to highlight the full extent of cases involved.

It was officially set up to ensure now elderly women could receive compensation of €50,000 to €150,000 without the need for drawn-out court cases. However, it has been criticised by some victims over the fact any payment recipients will be barred from taking further action and claims its terms of reference were kept deliberately narrow to reduce the potential compensation bill.

Judge Clark’s report is expected to conclude that hundreds of women should be paid the ex gratia sums for what happened to them and the total figure should be in the region of €34m.

Her report will also raise questions over the actions of doctors, hospitals, health boards, and the Department of Health during the period amid claims that the rights of vulnerable women were not protected.

The now banned symphysiotomy and pubiotomy procedures involved sawing open a woman’s pelvic bone in certain complicated childbirth situations, causing intense pain and life-long complications.

While it was consigned to history across the vast majority of western Europe by the 1950s, it continued to be forced on some women without their explicit consent up to 1984 in Ireland.

This was because the alternative, C-sections, were deemed incompatible with Catholic teaching and due to what previous critics have claimed were overly ambitious actions of individual doctors.

While Patient Focus and SOS Ltd support the payout scheme, Survivors of Symphysiotomy has described it as an attempt to ensure the State is not sued for the “barbaric” acts.


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