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Symphysiotomy

It is emerging that there are a number of women in Ireland aged between 47 and 91 years old who were subjected to a procedure during childbirth called Symphysiotomy, now discredited as an ineffective and inhumane treatment in childbirth.

Between 1949 and 1987 a number of women in Ireland were operated on during childbirth and without consent, leaving them permanently in pain and disabled. In many cases their children died or were left brain damaged or otherwise permanently injured or disabled. 

There are several groups in Ireland seeking to:– Expose the truth of these operations– Hold those responsible accountable– Ensure access to justice for survivors

Survivor on protest
Survivor on protest

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

  • Extreme pain
  • Impaired mobility
  • Incontinence
  • Depression 
  • Ongoing back pain 
  • Significant impact on marital and family life
  • Sexual dysfunction 
  • Organ prolapse 

Irwin Mitchell solicitors are assisting Irish women in Britain who endured this procedure when giving birth in Ireland. Irish in Britain are concerned that there is proper access to counselling and support for any women who may have been affected by this procedure. We are working in partnership with icap and with Irwin Mitchell to promote and encourage access to culturally sensitive counselling and support.

Cheryl Palmer–Hughes, a specialist solicitor at Irwin Mitchell who has been instructed to act in relation to symphysiotomy, said: “Our expert legal team is currently investigating how we can support and assist the victims to help them come to terms with what has happened, including the potential to claim for financial compensation.” 

Counselling and support

If you or someone you know are affected by this and would like the opportunity to speak independently and in confidence with a Therapist then please contact www.icap.org.uk

London office 0207 272 7906 or Birmingham office 0121 666 7707 

What is Symphysiotomy? 

In a submission in March 2014 to the United Nations Committee against Torture, Symphysiotomy is described as:

‘a cruel and dangerous childbirth operation that severs one of the main pelvic joints (the symphysis pubis) and unhinges the pelvis, a pivotal structure of the human body. A variant of this operation, pubiotomy – even more high risk – sunders the pubic bone rather than the symphysis joint and results in a compound fracture of the pelvis.

‘The performance of these operations without patient consent and in the absence of medical necessity in preference to a far safer and long established surgery – Caesarean section – constituted torture and acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and breached human rights. Many women were left permanently disabled, their lives irreparably damaged as a result of this procedure, while their babies, in some cases, died or were left brain damaged or otherwise injured. Ireland was the only country in the resource–rich parts of the world to practise this discarded surgery in the mid to late 20th century. 

An estimated 1,500 of these 18th century operations were performed there from 1941–2005: some 300 casualties survive today. They have been waiting for truth and justice from a recalcitrant Irish State for well over a decade, since these abuses were first brought to light’. 

Full submission found here