Research: Catholic Communications Office Statement in respect of Symphysiotomy in Ireland

Information from Rev Martin Clarke of the Catholic Communications Office in response to original reports of symphysiotomy in Ireland





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

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

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


Source :Catholic Communications Office

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