Symphysiotomy in Ireland

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What is a Symphysiotomy?

A symphysiotomy is a surgical procedure which is performed on women during childbirth. Its purpose is to increase the size of the pelvic outlet to permit the delivery of a baby. The cartilage of the area where the pubic bones come together is surgically divided.

It is estimated that 1,500 Irish women unknowingly and without consent underwent this procedure, an operation performed before or during child birth between the mid 1940’s and the mid 1980’s. The procedure was used at a time when caesarean sections were regarded as a safer option for women experiencing difficulties in labour and was no longer used in many countries.

It has been contended that symphysiotomies were performed in cases when a caesarean section would normally have been indicated, and as a result mothers were subject to a clinically inferior form of treatment. There is evidence that the use of symphysiotomies during labour was heavily influenced by Catholic teaching, rather than based on good clinical judgment, where a caesarean section might have been better for the mother.

Following a caesarean a woman is advised to have no more than two further pregnancies, thus limiting the number of children she could have, which is in conflict with the Catholic Church’s commitment to unrestricted pregnancy and childbirth.

Side Effects

The procedure left the majority of women permanently injured and experiencing severe side effects including:

  • Extreme pain
  • Impaired mobility
  • Incontinence
  • Depression
  • Ongoing back pain

There were no regulations or protocols for symphysiotomy in mid 20th Century Ireland. As a result this lack of regulation meant that some women underwent these procedures without giving their consent and some were unaware that they had been performed on them”.

Some of these procedures took place as recently as 1984 at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. The use of the procedure varied considerably across the country, with the majority of cases in Dublin, Drogheda and Cork. However, the report confirms that there are records that symphysiotomies also occurred at Waterford Regional Hospital, Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe and the Mid-Western Regional Maternity Hospital, Limerick.

What should you do if you think you may have received a symphysiotomy?

Any woman who is concerned should:

  1. Contact us immediately to discuss your options
  2. We will write to the hospital to request your delivery records
  3. Arrange a medical assessment

We are happy to meet with you to explore the legal options available to you.  We will also arrange for any medical assessment that you require.

Legal costs are covered under the redress scheme. For more information or to arrange a meeting phone Avril Scally at 1800 303 556 or email [email protected]

Recent Media Articles on Symphysiotomy

*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement. This statement is made in compliance with RE.8 of SI 518 of 2002.

Surgical Symphysiotomy Payment Scheme