Symphysiotomy survivors reject offer

Women who underwent symphysiotomies are to keep up their fight for compensation in the courts after dismissing as “shameful” Government attempt to offer a no-fault redress scheme.

Members of the Survivors of Symphysiotomy organisation also intend to take their cases to the UN Committee Against Torture next year.

The organisation set out its plan following meetings in Cork and Dublin over the weekend to consider Health Minister James Reilly’s decision to appoint a judge to examine the possibility of setting up a compensation scheme for the women, expected to be similar to that offered to the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries.

Symphysiotomies were carried out on an estimated 1,500 women in Ireland in a number of hospitals from the 1940s to the 1980s, despite being phased out in the rest of Europe before then.

It involved sawing through the pubic bone in order to widen the birth canal and was used in preference to caesarean sections in cases of difficult births. Many survivors have suffered decades of pain, incontinence, mobility problems, and trauma.

The Government had previously promised to enact legislation lifting the statute of limitations to make it easier for the women to take cases to the courts in order to establish why they were subjected to the procedure.

Marie O’Connor, chairwoman of SoS, which represents almost all the 300 survivors of symphysiotomy, said after the meetings the members were appalled at the Government U-turn.

“The Government’s approach offers no mechanism for finding that these operations were wrong, so there is no basis for adequately compensating victims for their injuries. The official view is that there has been no negligence, or very little,” said Ms O’Connor.

“SoS does not share the Government’s paternalistic view that members’ interests are best served by jettisoning this legislation. The vast majority of our members see the legal route as the only path to truth and justice, and the Government announcement has done nothing to alter their view.”

She said it was a further “travesty of justice” that, under the redress scheme proposal, women would be denied a fundamental right — access to independent legal representation.

Legal proceedings have issued in the cases of around 200 women who claim medical negligence against hospitals and the State. SoS offered to settle them in return for access to all files and evidence relating to the cases and payouts of €250,000 to €450,000.

When the cases go to court they are likely to be strongly contested and protracted affairs, which is of little practical use or comfort to the survivors, who are now in their 70s and 80s. Ms O’Connor also warned of substantial legal costs to the State.

Ms O’Connor said SoS would engage with Judge Yvonne Murphy, who has been the task of examining redress options, but said this in no way would deter them from pursuing legal avenues.


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