Survivors of Symphysiotomy Being "Denied Effective Remedies", Rights Groups Say

Press Release - for immediate release

Friday 1 May 2015

Survivors of Symphysiotomy and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) have expressed their "grave disappointment" at today's High Court judgment in a case involving a 'prophylactic' symphysiotomy in 1963 before the onset of labour.

"Over four weeks the State Claims Agency – with the tacit approval of the Government and the Department of Health – fought a 75 year old plaintiff tooth and nail in an attempt to justify the breaking of her pelvis 12 days before the birth of her baby. Unfortunately, at least at this stage in the proceedings, they have prevailed" said Marie O'Connor of Survivors of Symphysiotomy. "The judgment will be carefully considered by the plaintiff's legal advisors who, with her, will decide on the next steps."

"Nor can it be said that the payment scheme set up by the Government provides an acceptable alternative remedy for this plaintiff and the many other survivors which we represent", added Ms O'Connor. "On the contrary, many of our members are experiencing its administration as capricious and lacking in consistency", Ms O'Connor concluded. "The scheme places little or no value on survivor testimony and refuses to accept reports from independent medical reports unless these reports are supported by 50 year old medical records generated by doctors, many of whom are now deceased."

Mark Kelly, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said: "The outcome of today's proceedings is devastating for the woman at the centre of this case, but it is also symptomatic of the ongoing absence of effective remedies for women who have been subjected to this barbaric practice. The onus remains on the State to ensure that, in all cases in which women allege that they have been subjected to degrading treatment of this nature, an effective investigation takes place and a remedy is provided".

"In violation of its international human rights obligations, the Government has chosen to do precisely the opposite, going so far as to require women accepting ex gratia payments to indemnify those potentially responsible for their abuse. The case for a full independent inquiry into the practice of Symphysiotomy can only be bolstered by today's events in the High Court", Mr Kelly concluded.


For press queries and interview requests, please contact:


Marie O'Connor, Chairperson of Survivors of Symphysiotomy

T: + 353 86 8180254  E:

& Walter Jayawardene, Communications Manager, Irish Council for Civil Liberties

T: + 353 1 799 4503  Mob: +353 87 9981574  E:

Note to editor:

 •             Survivors of Symphysiotomy is the national membership group for casualties of this childbirth operation. It represents up to 400 survivors living in Ireland and abroad, ranging in age from 49 - 94.

 •             Symphysiotomy is a cruel and dangerous childbirth operation that unhinges the pelvis, severing the symphysis joint or sundering the pubic bones. Ireland was the only developed country in the world to practice these childbirth procedures in the mid to late 20th century.

 •             The current version of the Symphysiotomy redress scheme can be found at this link:

  •             The waiver of rights is set out in Schedule 1 to the scheme (at pages 38-39) and is also available directly at this link:$file/Terms%20of%20The%20Surgical%20Symphysiotomy%20Payment%20Scheme%20-%2010%20Nov%202014.pdf

 •             Under the terms of this waiver, the listed entities / bodies / individuals who will enjoy impunity in relation to women who accept payments includes:

 -              Ireland;

-              The Attorney General;

-              The Minister for Health;

-              The Minister of any Government Department in the State;

-              Any other organ of the State;

-              The State Claims Agency;

-              The Health Service Executive;

-              All former Health Boards in the State;

-              All local authorities in the State;

-              All hospitals, nursing homes, former hospitals or former nursing homes in the State whether public, private or    otherwise and/or their insurers;

-              All doctors, consultants, obstetricians, surgeons, medical staff, midwives, nursing staff, administrative staff, Boards of Management, associated with all hospitals or nursing homes, former hospitals or former nursing homes in the State whether public, private or otherwise and/or their insurers;

-              The Medical Defence Union and all or any of its members or former members;

-              The Medical Protection Society and all or any of its members or former members;

-              The Medical Missionaries of Mary and/or any Religious Order involved in the running of any hospital and/or their insurers.


•             The UN Human Rights Committee's Concluding Observations on Ireland were published on 24 July 2014 in Geneva. They are available at the UN's website at

  •             The Human Rights Committee recommended that Ireland should initiate a prompt, independent and thorough investigation into cases of symphysiotomy, prosecute and punish the perpetrators, including medical personnel, and provide the survivors of symphysiotomy with an effective remedy for the damage sustained, including fair and adequate compensation and rehabilitation, on an individualized basis. It should facilitate access to judicial remedies by victims opting for the ex gratia scheme, including allowing them to challenge the sums offered to them under the scheme.

 •             The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, in partnership with colleagues, submitted a detailed 'Shadow Report' of human rights issues in Ireland to the Committee in advance of the July hearings. Copies of this report can be downloaded at

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