Bodily Harm: Symphysiotomy and Pubiotomy in Ireland 1944-92 by Marie O’Connor will be launched by Professor Germaine Greer at Wynn’s Hotel, Lower Abbey St, Dublin 2, on Tuesday 21 June 2011 at 11.00.
Claims on pelvis-breaking sugery exposed as false
A major report on symphysiotomy, the 18th century operation performed in Ireland instead of Caesarean section, will be launched in Dublin on Tuesday 21 June by internationally known author and broadcaster Germaine Greer.
Bodily Harm: Symphysiotomy and Pubiotomy in Ireland 1944-9 demolishes the myths that have been perpetrated about these mutilating operations for over a decade.
Author Marie O’Connor says: ‘Caesarean section was withheld from these women. Obstetricians opted to split their pelvis instead, lest they limit their families. These doctors saw contraception as a moral hazard’.
Symphysiotomy was not the only operation that was performed on women. The report reveals the performance by doctors of a second 18th century childbirth operation. O’Connor explained: ‘if obstetricians failed to find the joint of the symphysis, they cut the pubic bone instead in a related operation known as pubiotomy that was even more shunned by doctors––elsewhere––than symphysiotomy’.
Contrary to what the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (IOG) has claimed, hardly any of these operations were done for medical reasons. O’Connor underlines that her report ‘charts the disinformation given to Dail deputies on this issue over the past 10 years. Successive ministers have been misinformed by the Department of Health on foot of information supplied by the IOG.’
Bodily Harm also lays bare is the idea that these operations were safe. ‘Doctors in other countries refused to perform them because of their dangers. Symphysiotomy cut the symphysis joint and pubiotomy split the pubic bone.’
‘Some women were left disabled, incontinent and in pain. One baby in ten died. In many cases, the surgery destroyed lives.’
The biggest myth of the lot, O’Connor said, is ‘that these operations were the norm for difficult births from the 1940 to the 1980s until they were replaced by Caesarean section. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ireland is the only country in the Western world to have practised these grotesquely dangerous operations from the mid to the late 20th century’.
Notes for editors
Symphysiotomy is an 18th c. birth operation unhinging the pelvis, while pubiotomy, which severs the bone rather than the joint, is a variant. These operations were revived in Dublin in 1944. By the end of the 1930s, however, Caesarean section was well established in Ireland as the norm for difficult births. But for an obstetrician to carry out a Caesarean on a mother was to limit the size of her family. Four sections was widely seen as the upper safety limit. No such limit applied to symphysiotomy, however. Obstetricians cutting the joint or the bone over the birth canal saw themselves as facilitating unlimited childbearing. The surgery was performed in most hospitals in the State.
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© Paula Geraghty 2011
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