Woman loses symphysiotomy action

A High Court judge has rejected a claim by a 76-year old woman that an unnecessary symphysiotomy was performed on her 12 days before the birth of her first baby at a Dublin hospital in 1963.

The case was regarded as a test case for those suing over symphysiotomies, a procedure which involved breaking the pelvis.

The woman was in court with dozens of supporters when Mr Justice Kevin Cross dismissed her claim, heard over 15 days. Liability for legal costs will be decided later.

In a statement, Marie O’Connor of Survivors of Symphysiotomy said the decision was “a devastating outcome” for survivors.

The outcome highlighted the need for a full and independent inquiry into the practise of symphysiotomy, which was proscribed by the UN Human Rights Committee last July, she added.

In her action, the woman alleged an unnecessary and wholly unjustified symphysiotomy was performed in September 1963 when the hospital incorrectly believed she was 13 days overdue on her first baby.

She felt “split in two” afterwards, suffered lifelong pain, incontinence and restricted mobility and could not bond with her baby daughter after the birth because she was in such pain she could not even lift her out of her cot. She said she felt very disillusioned and later had a nervous breakdown.

In opposing the claim, medical experts for the hospital argued the procedure does not result in any significant adverse effects.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Cross described the woman as “a remarkable lady” who has worked since her teens and continues to do so.

Having analysed the evidence, he concluded that, in Dublin maternity hospitals in 1963, it was accepted trial of labour was not always required for a consultant to conclude vaginal delivery would not be possible and, in those cases, prophylactic symphysiotomy was “a reasonable, though limited” option.

In this case, hospital notes and other factors convinced the doctors a vaginal delivery would not be possible and a symphysiotomy was performed which, at the time, they had reason to believe was not generally adverse in its effect on the mother and safer as far as the child was concerned, he said.

This “remarkable lady, whose story indeed deserves to be told”, must fail in her case, he said.

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