Monday, 26 August 2013

Survivors of Symphysiotomy: "No introductions, just lots of aggressive staring, and plenty of emotional blackmail"

No introductions, just lots of aggressive staring, and plenty of emotional blackmail

Our recent meeting with the Minister for Health was not 'a bid to find a satisfactory resolution', to quote a Government deputy, it was, rather ironically, an all out attempt by his allies to coerce our members into an ill-defined mediation process that aims to buy them off. 

(There were no introductions, just lots of aggressive staring, and plenty of emotional blackmail at this meeting involving top officials and highly paid advisers. One of them sat behind me, while a government ally stared non stop for 2 hours, creating a tunnel of negative energy! At one point, at a signal from that adviser, 2 of the allies suddenly left the room with him: the 3 could be seen having a lengthy confab through the glass door...) 

That bizarre meeting was not about resolution, it was about re-victimisation. Being economical with the truth can be a cost saver for governments.  At no point did the Minister condemn the practice of symphysiotomy: to do so might mean survivors would have to be treated as victims of medical negligence. 

The government has other plans, plans that involve a so-called redress scheme.  

'Compensation', to use the Deputy Regina Doherty's word for redress, is not the same as redress, however, any more than mediation is the same as negotiation. Word do not mean what we say they mean, unless we are Alice in Wonderland. Compensation is generally based on a finding of wrongdoing, and aims to make up to the victim for the loss s/he has suffered, insofar as that can be done, while redress is a token for pain and suffering, with no admission of liability or wrongdoing. 

The Minister expressed a wish to find a quick way forward but showed no interest whatsoever in the fastest way forward of all, a negotiated settlement on foot of the legal actions being taken by our members. Based on an acknowledgement that these operations were wrongful, such a settlement would offer both truth and justice and could be hammered out in weeks, if the political will existed. 

The redress road has been chosen as the preferred solution to the 'problem' of survivors of symphysiotomy. This will take several years and fits perfectly with the 'delay until they die' strategy adopted by the Department of Health 14 years ago.  

There are, of course, different models of redress. The Hepatitis C scheme was exemplary. However, the authorities appear to have chosen the shabbiest one of all. Instead of dealing with survivors of symphysiotomy as victims of medical negligence, the government seems bent on treating with them as though they were Magdalene detainees. This is patently wrong. 

This is a formula that enables the government to deny survivors their rights. The Magdalen women are being forced to sign away their legal and constitutional rights as a condition of entering their scheme.  They are also denied the right to legal representation. This is grossly unfair and manifestly unjust. 

When the Minister talks about 'money going directly to the women', he is implying that money paid to lawyers comes out of the awards made to victims. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every redress board until now has offered access to independent lawyers and independent doctors paid for by the state over and above any awards made to victims.  

The Magdalene model has set the bar at a new low.  The government is simply not prepared to pay for independent legal representation. (Access to independent doctors is also off limits, presumably. But then, why would you need them if you are not a victim of medical negligence?) 

The Government is already set on denying as many women as possible access to justice by blocking our Bill setting aside the statute bar. Whatever scheme is in the pipeline will also likely deny survivors access to the courts, as the Magdalene scheme does.

Survivors will also be offered levels of restitution far below their entitlements. The Minister made it clear that €250,000 was completely out of the question, even for a woman who has had to have 20 operations, including a colostomy, and four colostomy reversals, a woman who has missed communions, confirmations, weddings and christenings, a woman who has all but lost her life as a result of that barbarous surgery, who would undoubtedly be awarded well over €600,000 by a judge for her injuries, yet the Minister deems them to be insufficient to merit one third of that amount. 

He also made it clear that he wanted to see money paid across a woman's lifetime: this suggests weekly instalments, as per the Magdalenes. Their financial entitlements have been shamefully downgraded: any award in excess of 50,000 is paid at a rate of €9 per week. What a cynical scheme to offer 70 and 80 year olds!   

Survivors may be advancing in age, but they are also advancing in determination. After so many years spent fighting for justice, our members will not be fobbed off with this blatant denial of their legal and constitutional rights, which is founded in the fiction that the practice of symphysiotomy was medically acceptable, a fiction that the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and its members have nurtured since 1999. 

While government allies may witter on about the 'healing' that comes from 'telling your story' in mediation-manipulation, closure cannot come from a lie. 

Marie O'Connor
Chairperson Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS) 
Author: Bodily Harm: symphysiotomy and pubiotomy in Ireland 1944-92

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