Elizabeth O’Shaughnessy

Elizabeth O’Shaughnessy’s Portrait

A Midwifery of Darker Times

Working with archival material, historical medical objects and personal testimonies, this research-based project examines the historical practice of symphysiotomy and pubiotomy in Irish hospitals from the 1940s to 1980s. The series analyses the circumstances in which the surgeries were carried out and the lifechanging effects they had on women.  

The procedure, performed before and sometimes after childbirth on around 1,500 women, involved cutting through the cartilage and ligaments of the pelvic joint (or in severe cases sawing through the pelvis) to aid obstructed labour. It was carried out instead of a safer alternative, a Caesarean section, and usually without the patient’s consent. The practice was an unholy alliance between medical authority and religion.

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