“Symphysiotomy”

Anger erupts in Ireland over destruction of records documenting extreme birth operation

(photo via Survivors of Symphysiotomy)

Debate has erupted in Ireland over the symphysiotomy, a brutal childbirth operation that was last performed in the country some thirty years ago. A symphysiotomy involves cutting through the cartilage and ligaments of the pelvic joint in order to make room for an obstructed delivery. The operation can cause chronic side effects like pelvic pain, difficulty walking, and urinary incontinence. Symphysiotomies were scarcely used in Europe after the 20th century, but according to Broadly, the procedure was performed on around 1500 Irish women — without their consent — between the 1940s and 1980s.

Critics claim that the preponderance of symphysiotomies in Ireland was driven by Catholicism. Doctors at the time believed that having more than three caesarian sections was dangerous, but would resort to drastic procedures before providing women with contraception. 83-year-old Rita O’Leary underwent an involuntary symphysiotomy in 1957 at the National Maternity Hospital, a Catholic facility in Dublin. “I had continuous back pain for the next fifty years of my life,” told Broadly. “I was constantly limping because my pelvis hurt. It was difficult to go to the toilet, and I couldn’t look after my child properly. It’s just so humiliating.”

Ireland recently implemented a program to compensate symphysiotomy victims with sums that range between £40,000 and £120,000, depending on the extent of the injuries. But a government plan to destroy the symphysiotomy records of any woman who does not ask for the return of her documents has sparked outrage in the country. The Department of Health says it is required, under the Data Protection Act of 1988, to shred the documents if they are not claimed. Critics like Marie O’Connor, chair of Survivors of Symphysiotomy, are worried that all traces of the procedure will be erased from history.

“As so many woman are elderly and infirm, to require them to claim their records is to manufacture ‘consent’ to shred,” O’Connor told Broadly. “[T]hese copies may be the only copies in existence.”

Read the full story at Broadly.

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