Class of 2022 • Photography

Elizabeth O’Shaughnessy

Elizabeth O’Shaughnessy
Griffith College Dublin


Graduation Year
Class of 2022


This work is part of a series of images examining the historical practice of symphysiotomy and pubiotomy in Irish hospitals from the 1940s to 1980s. Working with archival material, historical medical objects and personal testimonies, this research-based project analyses the circumstances in which the surgeries were carried out and the lifechanging effects they had on women.
While the procedure was abandoned in the rest of Europe by the middle of the 20th century, it saw a revival in Ireland in 1940s. Symphysiotomy was performed before and sometimes after childbirth on 1,500 women and involved cutting through the cartilage and ligaments of the pelvic joint (or in severe cases, called a pubiotomy, 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, leading to a lifetime of health problems.
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