Symphysiotomy is a surgical procedure used mainly in the third world, when women are experiencing a difficult labour but cannot access a hospital because they’re too far away. The woman’s pelvis is sawn apart to make room for the baby to be born. This “room” is temporary, but the procedure does not scar the uterus (like a caesarean section would), so the woman can go on to have many more pregnancies.
This was seen as a great idea in Ireland. If a woman had a caesarean section to deliver her first child, she would always need a section, it was believed. It would only be safe to have a limited number of sections, so the woman could only have a limited number of babies. It seems that doctors were afraid that this would encourage women to use contraception, a most grievous sin. That was not a good thing for populating Ireland with Catholics so symphysiotomy was seen as the answer.
Unfortunately, there were horrific side effects for the women – including incontinence, horrific pain and inability to walk.
Unfortunately too, consent for this horrific surgery was not sought. Women were treated with such disdain that consent was never even suggested. The women never even knew that this surgery had been performed on them until years and years later. Very unfortunately too, some babies were killed as a result of the procedure, yes killed.
Prime Time did a programme about this scandal during the week, and the procedure continued in Ireland until 1982, despite being phased out in the UK at the turn of the last century! One woman on the programme described how the surgery killed her baby girl by perforating her skull! Dear Jesus!
They thought it was better to kill a few babies than to limit the overall production of Catholics? Better than a woman using contraception, the Lord save and preserve us.
These women have formed a support / action group and have asked for an enquiry, but no-one seems to think it’s worth bothering with it. Sure they’re only women. What’s the point? The point is that these women were abused, and deserve at the very least a few answers. Mary Harney has refused.
This story got me thinking, and do you know what? Having a baby in Ireland can still be a fairly savage experience. Thank God the shocking symphysiotomy has finally ceased, and Neary is finally gone – but – I wonder how “green” first time mothers are treated today in Ireland?
I know that when I had my first baby, I was at the mercy of the consultants’ holiday and the hospital’s timetable. I was induced so that the consultant could clear his cases before he went on his holiday. I was rushed along (as if I could control the speed of my labour!) to suit the hospital’s timetable. Forceps were produced when I was too slow with the pushing, and all that goes with that procedure followed… I could go on and on.
Second time around I knew what was happening. I demanded a lot more respect and got it, but I’m still sad that I was treated as a slab of meat that first time. A time when I was naieve and frightened. I relied on the doctors and the hospit to do the right thing for me, to respect me as a human being.
My experience is nothing compared to the women who were butchered by symphysiotomy. The women who were given symphysiotomyies without their consent need our support.
Mary Harney – give these women what they need and deserve.
(Additional comment from Bock: Also here are the posts on Michael Neary, who recently accused the women destroyed by symphisiotomy of smelling money, and who denied carrrying out the operation, the miserable, cynical, lying, power-mad bastard.)