Senators debate symphysiotomy report

Irish Senators are to discuss a draft report later on the use of a controversial childbirth operation to widen the pelvis.

It found one reason that symphysiotomies were used was to obey laws influenced by the Catholic Church that banned contraception and sterilisation, the Irish Times reported ahead of its official publication on Thursday.

It is estimated up to 1,500 women underwent symphysiotomies between the mid-1940s and mid-1980s.

The procedure, sometimes carried out without consent or with no information given about its risks, has since been linked with chronic conditions such as pain, incontinence and mobility problems.

The campaign group, Survivors of Symphysiotomy, dismissed the draft report as a "elaborate apologia for an abomination".

The independent report, commissioned by the Irish Department of Health, suggests the use of symphysiotomies was at its peak in the Republic of Ireland at a time when it had declined in the rest of Europe, the newspaper reported.

When a mother could not safely deliver her baby in the 1940s and 1950s, symphysiotomies were considered appropriate because of safety concerns about repeated Caesarean sections - associated with a higher number of deaths at the time - and the ban on contraception and sterilisation, the report is expected to say.

However, the report is thought to find that some symphysiotomies were wrongly used, and some obstetricians refused to carry them out because of fears for the long-term health of mothers.

"These reservations are reflected in the fact that even when use of the procedure was at its height in the mid-1950s, it remained a rare event relative to overall deliveries, and was never utilised in all maternity hospitals," the report states.

The procedure began to decline in the late 1950s as confidence increased in the safety of repeated Caesarean sections, but Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda continued with the procedure until 1984.

The report suggests this was linked to the "unswervingly Catholic ethos" of the hospital at the time.

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