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25 February 2010 Edition

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Symphysiotomy Inquiry needed

Irish women who unknowingly and without consent underwent symphysiotomies during childbirth between the 1950s and 1980s were left with severe side effects, including extreme pain, impaired mobility, incontinence and depression. Obstetricians sought to establish this operation as an alternative to Caesarean sections because it was thought that women subjected to repeated Caesareans might be tempted to use contraception.
Sinn Féin Health and Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has this week secured a debate on the adjournment of the Dáil on the issue. As he told the Dáil, an inquiry into this barbaric practice should already have been held, reported and acted upon. He has called shame on the Minister for Health & Children and her Department for refusing to do so.
Instead, Minister Mary Harney is to ask the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology to carry out a review and report on the practice of symphysiotomy, but that is not good enough. That is asking the institution responsible for the abuse to investigate itself. It is not a proper inquiry, though its establishment has come about as a result of pressure on the minister to act.
The RTÉ Prime Time programme of 18 February 2010 made a compelling case, including new evidence, for an inquiry. One of the most extraordinary pieces of evidence was one that did not take a great deal of research. It was on the number of symphysiotomies actually carried out. The Department of Health & Children was asked for a figure and gave one, which they said was incomplete because they did not have all the relevant health board reports. Yet a reporter from Prime Time was able to go the National Library and find the correct figure. It was three times the Department’s estimate. This is a very sorry and embarrassing state of affairs for the Department to find itself in.
The programme confirmed that not only should disgraced consultant Michael Neary have been struck off the medical register, as he was, but he should have been brought before the courts. Interviewed on national television he accused the abused and traumatised survivors of symphysiotomy of being motivated by the ‘smell of money’.
It was a sickening sight. This is the man who carried out numerous mutilations of women through unnecessary hysterectomies. The programme revealed that he is implicated in the symphysiotomy scandal as well. This alone merits a full inquiry.
The Minister for Health & Children should act immediately to establish an inquiry headed by a competent and independent figure from outside of the medical establishment.
It is time she stopped shielding the medical establishment and started acting on behalf of those citizens who were victims of this barbaric practice.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

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