No redress for Cobh symphysiotomy victim
A Cork woman who underwent the controversial operation symphysiotomy in 1961 has said it ruined her life and has caused her constant pain ever since, but she does not expect any redress to follow publication of a new report on the issue.
Symphysiotomy is a procedure where the woman's pelvis is broken in order to widen the birth canal during birth. It is now banned in Ireland but was administered as recently as 1984, many years after being rejected by medical experts worldwide.
“It spoilt my life,” explained Eileen Murphy from Cobh.
“I used to enjoy going for walks but I had to stop that after it happened. It pained me, but I got used to it.”
At the time, she was not informed, and only one nun referred to the procedure Eileen received, stating she would “pay for it in her old age.” Eileen had four more children following her daughter in 1961.
“You’re not told anything back in 1961,” said Eileen, one of the original members of the survivors group Survivors of Symphysotomy (SoS).
“The consequences of the procedure is that from day to day you cannot walk properly. You never realise you are built onto your pelvis so for anyone to open it is no good.”
Eileen underwent the procedure while having her daughter, her first child, in the Bons Secours Hospital in Cork city.
When she left hospital and returned to their first house which had two flights of stairs, Eileen was forced to kneel her way up the stairs pushing the basket of washing ahead of her.
A new report by Professor Oonagh Walsh of University College Cork (UCC), published today by the Department of Health, is expected to state that while the procedure was deemed appropriate in emergencies in the 1940s and 1950s, there were instances of the procedure being wrongly used after that.
“I’ve heard so many reports now due out on so many things and so many times, what’s the report going to say? What studies did she do it on? Where is she coming from?” said Eileen's husband Jerome.
“The then Minister for Health, our own Micheál Martin, was going to do everything and then did damn all. He shook hands with Eileen and said ‘Hello, how are you, will you vote for me?’
“Then he was no longer Minister for Health and Mary Harney came in and did absolutely nothing. What will James O’Reilly do? Nothing.”
Jerome also dismissed any suggestion of compensation or of redress from a new enquiry.
“There is no need for any more reports. They have the effects and records of everything that happened. They have all the information so why start it all again? Because everyone affected will be dead and I doubt they will pay any compensation posthumously but I’m not interested in compensation.”
“They’re not interested up there. They’re more interested in Mick Wallace and will he stay or will he go rather than the Euro or survivors of symphysiotomy.”
The scandal has come in for renewed media attention this week following representations made by SoS on Tonight with Vincent Browne on TV3 and to a Dáil committee on Tuesday.
The Department of Health stated that the report was only the first stage in a consultation process trying to examine the effect of the symphysiotomy procedure.
“The Government is committed to dealing with the women concerned sensitively and the first priority is to make sure that the health needs of those who have had a symphysiotomy are met quickly and effectively,” said a spokesperson.