Irish women sawn open during childbirth seek justice

2016-02-26 21:47


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Dublin - Women who had their pelvises broken in Irish hospitals have been failed by a state redress scheme, according to lawyers and activists.

Symphysiotomy, a brutal procedure that involved slicing through the cartilage and ligaments of a pelvic joint during childbirth as well as pubiotomy, an even more extreme form in which the bone of the pelvis was sawn apart, was carried out in Ireland centuries after it was abandoned elsewhere, leaving women with lifelong disabilities, incontinence and chronic pain.

An estimated 1 500 women are thought to have unknowingly undergone the procedure without giving consent since its practice was revived in Irish hospitals in the 1940s. It officially ceased in 1984, but there are unconfirmed reports of its having taken place up until 2012.

Punish perpetrators

The fact that these decades also witnessed a rapid increase in Irish emigration to Britain and the US means that there may have been countless more women who had the procedure but were possibly never made aware of it. In fact, many of the women were never informed of exactly what had been done to them and only found out decades later after media reports on the topic. In 2014, the UNHRC recommended that Ireland conduct "a prompt, independent and thorough investigation into cases of symphysiotomy" and create channels to "prosecute and punish the perpetrators".

Irish survivors of the procedure are today faced with a no-blame payment scheme that fails to meet the recommendations of the UNHRC, but which most feel they must now accept because of their old age and ailing health.

The Irish government announced its Symphysiotomy Payment Scheme in November 2014. It offered quick, limited payments, from €50 000 and forced the participating women to sign an ex gratia waiver that barred them from seeking to "prosecute and punish" the hospitals, doctors and religious orders responsible for the practice.

Minimum payout

The scheme has been widely condemned by activists, lawyers and the women themselves, who claim it prevents them from seeking justice and offers inadequate compensation.

Critics say that the scheme failed to hear oral testimonies from those women who were unable to locate medical documents, often 50 years after the event and that, subsequently, many of these women received the minimum payout despite suffering decades of pain and disability.

Read more on:    ireland

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