A 74-year-old woman who suffered life-long pain after a symphysiotomy procedure was performed on her 12 days before the birth of her baby in 1963 has lost her High Court action.

In what was viewed as a test case for others, the woman had sued for negligence, claiming there was no justification for the controversial procedure.

In her action the woman claimed she suffered life-long pain and could not bond with her baby and had a nervous breakdown.

The case was heard in the High Court over 15 days.

In his judgment Mr Justice Kevin Cross found that "the practice of prophylactic symphysiotomy in 1963 was not a practice without justification".

He said it was indeed a controversial practice but it was also strongly defended and the strength of the defence made it impossible for the plaintiff to prove her case.

The judge described the plaintiff as a remarkable lady whose story deserved to be told and said he would have taken "hold of twig or twine-thread" to uphold her case, but he had to find her case must fail.

Mr Justice Cross said there was no doubt that the operation would not have been performed on the plaintiff today or on any date after the introduction of "active management of labour".

He said in this case the plaintiff, whether as a result of the timing of the symphysiotomy or otherwise, did suffer and indeed continued to suffer consequences throughout her life.

However, he said every medical procedure now commonplace must once have been unprecedented and indeed may well have been very controversial.

He said in this case the hospital notes indicate that the treating doctors were convinced that a vaginal delivery would not be possible.

Accordingly they proceeded on a course of symphysiotomy, which at the time they had reason to believe was not generally adverse in its effect to the mother and it was safer as far as the child was concerned.

He said that he had further come to the conclusion that, given the real fears of multiple Caesarean sections and the perceived benign effects of symphysiotomy and also given the wide acceptance of this practice among the leading consultants in the Coombe and National Maternity Hospital, the plaintiff has not established this practice was one with such inherent defects that ought to have been obvious to any person giving the matter due consideration.

The judge said there was no evidence of any peer criticism of the plaintiff's procedure.

Speaking afterwards spokesperson for Survivors of Symphysiotomy Marie O Connor said it was a "devastating outcome for survivors of symphysiotomy everywhere".

She said it also highlighted the need for a full and independent inquiry into the practice. 

Mark Kelly of the Council for Civil Liberties said the case again demonstrates that "requiring women in their 70s and 80s to come to the High Court is not an effective way to give justice to survivors".

He said the onus was not on elderly women to come and convince the judge that they have suffered permanent damage.

"The onus is on the State to carry out an independent inquiry to explain to women why this practice, which had been banned in other jurisdictions, was re-introduced here."

"Yet again, dragging women  through the courts is not living up to its human rights responsibility," he said.

"The Government needs to realise this practice of stoutly resisting women has to stop ... the compensation scheme is not an alternative to an inquiry".