April 5, 2010
BOOK OF THE DAY: Without Consent By Sheila O’Connor Poolbeg, 402pp, €10.99
NO MATTER how often one reads about the appalling damage done to women by the former Drogheda obstetrician Michael Neary, the sense of shock remains the same.
How wombs could have been whipped out by him at the first sight of blood following Caesarean sections in the maternity unit of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital without anyone in the hospital taking him to task still seems unbelievable.
Several of these women had just delivered their first babies and were robbed of their chance to have more.
Two were just 19. One was a midwife who begged him as she lay on the operating table not to cut out her womb after she gave birth. He ignored her pleas.
The story of what these women endured, and how they discovered years later, some through the media, that in many instances their hysterectomies had been unnecessary, is outlined in harrowing detail by Sheila O’Connor, the woman who began supporting Neary’s victims after news of the scandal broke in 1998.
O’Connor’s closeness to the women allows her to present a unique insight into what happened in the case of Neary’s individual victims, how they did and didn’t cope, as well as every step they had to take in their fight for justice.
Without Consent details how Neary wrongly claimed over and over again, when speaking to his victims, that his actions had saved their lives, that they were lucky their husbands or partners weren’t bringing them home “in a box”. One of the women, Teresa, lit candles for him and thanked God every night afterwards that he had saved her.
O’Connor never got used to hearing the same sorry story as new faces joined the support group – its membership gradually grew from six to about 200.
Neary performed 129 Caesarean hysterectomies over the course of 25 years. The average for most obstetricians would be fewer than five in a career. He did six in one month alone.
And Neary had plenty of support. O’Connor had to put up with silent and nuisance phone calls from his supporters even after he was struck off the medical register for professional misconduct. Her support group’s GP, Dr Tony O’Sullivan, was targeted and he was reported to the Medical Council when he supported Neary’s victims, she says, but was found later to have no case to answer.
There is high praise, not just for women who pursued Neary through the Medical Council and the courts, but also for their partners and husbands who attended meeting after meeting as they fought for an independent inquiry into what happened and later a redress scheme for the women.
Much of the story is already in the public domain, but it is the way O’Connor pulls it all together that keeps the reader turning the pages. An example of this is when, on behalf of the women, she first wrote to a health minister in 2000 seeking a meeting but her letter wasn’t even acknowledged. Who was the minister at the time? Brian Cowen.