Survivor of Symphysiotomy says we were experiments

Ellen Moore
Ellen Moore

“We were experiments, young naive women having our first babies.”

That’s how former Shannon resident Ellen Moore expresses her ordeal with symphysiotomy. It is estimated that 1,500 Irish women unknowingly and without consent underwent the barbaric practice during childbirth between 1944—1992.  It involved a surgeon deliberately breaking the woman’s pelvis to make delivery easier. Most survivors were left with severe lifelong-after effects, including extreme pain, impaired mobility, incontinence, and depression.

Ellen, now 70, has had severe pain, bowl incontinence and more than 20 operations since she had her eldest child at the age of 22 in 1965.

“I didn’t know what was going on. You didn’t discuss women’s things back then. I went to Tullamore hospital with my husband Mike. I was in labour for 12 hours. All I remember is hearing the angelus ringing out as I was wheeled into a room. The doctor told the nurse to hold me down by the shoulders and my feet were put in stirrups. I blacked out. From that day to this I have had unbearable pain and incontinence. My five children have had to contend with ‘Mommy’s issue’ every time I soiled myself. I have trouble walking. I have missed communions, confirmations and weddings. I am largely housebound. I had a colostomy bag fitted in 1991. It has been horrific,” said Ellen who now lives in Ballyvaughan County Clare with her husband Mike.

The great-grandmother of three and grandmother of nine said it was not until 2010 when she saw a Primetime documentary on symphysiotomy that she realised what had happened to her.

“I started shaking. I said ‘O Lord save us that’s me!.’ I called the helpline and am now a member of the Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS) group. To this day I have received absolutely no apology, no culpability and no compensation from anyone for the barbaric procedure that was carried out against my will. It has been a horrific life in which my husband and children have suffered as a result,”

Last week SoS said that survivors will not be cooperating with any Magdalene type redress scheme following a meeting with Health Minister James Reilly.

Chairperson of SoS, Marie O’Connor said: “The women involved refuse to go blindfolded into a scheme and refuse to be shafted. At no stage during the meeting did Minister Reilly condemn the practice of symphysiotomy,”

SoS is calling for the lifting of the Statute of Limitations to allow them rapid access to the courts to seek justice. It is expected that the long-awaited report on the outdated surgical procedure will be published in late Autumn. For more information see