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Symphysiotomy, The Catholic Church and Ivana Bacik (1)

Wednesday, 19 March, 2008 1:03 AM
From: "Rory Connor"
Cc: "Ivana Bacik"

National Secular Society

cc Ivana Bacik

It is extra-ordinary that you should again publish this allegation about Symphysiotomy  which is similar to Nazi propaganda about evil Jewish doctors (letter from Sue England). The Minister for Health in Ireland agreed a few years ago to set up an enquiry chaired by a Swedish Professor who is a recognised expert in this area. However he turned out to be a great supporter of Symphysiotomy and was instantly rejected by the Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) people who wanted a pre-ordained conclusion. The conclusion they want - that they are "victims" of the Catholic Church is impossible because

(i) any expert in this area must, by definition, have published peer reviewed articles in respectable medical journals  AND

(ii) no respectable medical journal has ever published an article which supports the claims of Bacik and the SOS people about the Church.

I am enclosing two articles - one from the Catholic Communications Office in 2003 and one from the Irish Times in 2004. The latter states that the Dept. of Health were seeking "a replacement expert". None has been found for the reason I have outlined above.

If the NSS and Ms Bacik are concerned about the dangers of religion, can I suggest that you turn your attention to Islamic fascism and stop making false allegations against the Catholic Church. During the last years of the Weimar Republic the German Communist Party decided that the Social Democrats - not the Nazis - were the main enemy and concentrated on destroying them. That grotesque policy split the left and let in the Nazis.

The NSS and Ms Bacik are in danger of doing something similar in relation to the Islamic brand of fascism - and I am aware from personal experience that you are quite representative of our secular liberals. 


Rory Connor
11 Lohunda Grove
Dublin 15
087 675 1169

(A) SYMPHYSIOTOMY IN IRELAND  (Catholic Comms Office, Sept 2003)

1. Recent discussion of this issue appears to have begun with an article in the Irish Times of 6 September 1999 by Jacqueline Morrissey entitled “Midwifery of Darker Times” which suggests that symphysiotomy was carried out in Irish hospitals for religious rather than medical reasons, and that Catholic Church teaching was the main basis of this practice.  This suggestion was firmly disputed by Peter Boylan (a former Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street) and Tony Farmer (author of a history of the Hospital) in a joint letter to the Irish Times of 6 October 1999 which clearly states that “the introduction of symphysiotomy was driven not by Catholic teaching but by the medical risks associated with repeated Caesarians”.

2. Replying to a parliamentary question in Dail Eireann on 25 June 2002, the Minister for Health and Children referred to the advice he had obtained from the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists which indicated that “excellent results were claimed for this procedure…at a time when Caesarian section had a high mortality rate due to sepsis”.  However, the Minister made no reference to any religious/ethical dimension of this practice.

3. The Green Party issued a press release on 26 June 2003 which indicated that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children had agreed to a request from the Green Party Chairman, John Gormley TD for a special hearing on the question of symphysiotomy this autumn. In that press release, Mr Gormley stated that the hearing “will be an opportunity to put all the facts into the public domain and allow both sides of the argument to put forward their respective points of view.  We must establish once and for all whether this operation was medically necessary or if it was the result of religious considerations, as some have claimed”.

4. In the limited time given to my office to research this issue, I have not been
able to find any evidence that the Catholic Church internationally, nationally or
locally has ever taught that symphysiotomy should be carried out for ethical, moral and/or religious reasons.  Nor have I been able to trace any Church policy for Catholic hospitals, doctors or consultants which sought to promote this practice.

5. None of the principal maternity hospitals where this practice occurred (Holles Street, the Coombe and the Rotunda) are/were under the patronage of the Catholic Church, nor is/was St James’s Hospital in Dublin.  It follows that obstetricians would not have had to sign a “Catholic Code of Ethics” before working in these hospitals.

6. I understand that Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda was under the patronage of the Medical Missionaries of Mary.  In order to clarify the historical position of obstetricians working there, you should make contact with the hospital authorities and/or the Medical Missionaries of Mary.

Rev Martin Clarke
Catholic Communications Office

11 September 2003

(B) Expert to review 'barbaric' surgery backed procedure
Irish Times 19 July 2004 by Carl O'Brien

Women who underwent "barbaric" surgery as an alternative to Caesarian sections have reacted with anger to the revelation that the man the Department of Health had planned to conduct a review into the practice has written in medical journals supporting the procedure.

It has just been learned that Prof Kenneth Bjorklund, of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, will not now take up the role.

A Department of Health spokesman said Prof Bjorklund was no longer able to conduct the review because of "work commitments". A replacement expert is now being sought.

Hundreds of symphysiotomies - an operation which permanently widens the pelvis - were carried out between the 1950s and 1980s.

However, many women say their consent was never sought for the operations, and are now suffering from conditions including incontinence, acute back pain and mobility problems.

Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS), a group representing women who underwent the procedure, reacted furiously after learning that Prof Bjorklund had advocated the reintroduction of symphysiotomy into obstetrics.

In a study of 5,000 cases of symphysiotomy over the last 100 years, he concluded that the operation was safe for the mother and complications were rare.

In the conclusions of a 2002 study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, he stated: "If valid conclusions can be drawn from 100 years of retrospective studies, there is considerable evidence to support a reinstatement of symphysiotomy in the obstetric arsenal for the benefit of women in obstructed labour and their offspring."

He said it was of particular assistance in third-world countries where an estimated 50,000 women die each year because of obstructed labour.

The spokesman for the Department of Health defended the decision to appoint Prof Bjorklund, and said he was an internationally-recognised expert.

The SOS group, which has described the operations as "brutal and barbaric", said it was shocked to learn of the Department's plans, and would have withdrawn its support for the review if the appointment had went ahead.

Louth-based GP Dr Mary Grehan, who is providing support to the SOS group, also said the plans to appoint a proponent of symphysiotomy to lead the review were a "total and absolute disgrace".

"I don't see how anyone could say that complications from the operation were rare. There are hundreds of women who were butchered by this operation.

"A lot of these women still won't go near a doctor because of what happened to them."

Irish surgeons continued to carry out the operation on a large scale during the 1950s despite condemnation from visiting doctors, one of whom described it as "midwifery of the dark ages".