Belfast Telegraph

'Horrific' medical practice debated

Health minister James Reilly has been urged to hold a public inquiry into a brutal medical procedure forced on pregnant women in Ireland as recently as the 1990s.

Amid emotionally charged scenes in the Dail, TDs debated for the first time the practice of symphysiotomy, in which doctors broke women's pelvises to ease childbirth without their consent.

Mr Reilly is to commission a report to determine why the practice, which has been long banished in the developed world, was carried out on some 1,500 women between 1944 and 1992.

But a clearly emotional Mick Wallace, as well as a number of other TDs, called for much speedier action to ensure women, who have been left with permanent damage receive justice and compensation. "It's very hard to talk about, it's just so horrific," said the Independent TD as he choked back tears. It's clearly another example of men trying to control women's bodies and we have a male-dominated parliament doing very little about it."

The Wexford TD said this was an example of very bad things happening to good people, and insisted survivors had a right to seek compensation through the courts. "Fairness is all that is being asked for," he added.

Symphysiotomy was first advocated in 1597 by a French carpenter and involved cutting in half the cartilage that holds the hips together to widen the passage for childbirth. However, it was used rarely until better hygiene and surgical procedures were introduced for Caesarean sections.

The last health minister held a partial inquiry into the practice of symphysiotomy at the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, where it is believed to have been most commonly carried out. But TDs have called for a full investigation into all hospitals across the country.

Fine Gael's Regina Doherty and Heather Humphreys were also clearly moved by the debate, which was attended by a number of symphysiotomy survivors, some of whom have been left unable to walk and permanently inflicted with urinary and bowel problems.

"When you consider the suffering and the pain and the trauma that they have been put through their entire adult life, I'm absolutely devastated by it and I can't begin to imagine it," said a tearful Ms Doherty.

Mr Reilly confirmed he had commissioned a report into why the practice was allowed in Ireland, while it had been banned in the UK and the rest of Europe. The minister received the initial report from researchers in January. His department will then consult with the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology before the draft report is finalised. Mr Reilly said he would then decide on the next steps to take.

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