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Hospital sorry for forced
Alana Rosenbaum, Theage.com.au January 24, 2012
THE Royal Women's Hospital has admitted that single women were treated
differently from married mothers until the mid-1970s and apologised for the
pain and suffering that the practice caused.
The apology came as the hospital filed to a Senate inquiry into forced
adoption a submission that admitted denying unwed mothers access to their
babies. The submission said it was unlikely they were informed of options
other than adoption.
The hospital's chief executive, Dale Fisher, said in a statement: ''I
apologise to every woman who felt she had no choice but to relinquish her
baby for adoption while in our care. I understand many relinquishing mothers
experienced, and continue to experience, feelings of grief, pain, anger,
helplessness and loss, and for this I apologise unreservedly.''
But the submission denied using illegal tactics to cajole women to give up
The apology follows a study of adoption practices at the hospital by
historian Shurlee Swain titled ''Confinement and Delivery Practices in
Relation to Single Women Confined at the Royal Women's Hospital 1945-1975''.
The study acknowledged that unmarried mothers were:
■Denied access to newborn babies.
■Most likely denied information on options other than adoption.
■Treated in different wards to married women.
■Forced to endure longer labours to avoid Caesarean section.
■Routinely referred to social workers to discuss adoption.
Fiona Judd, director of the Centre for Women's Mental Health at the
hospital, said such practices should be viewed in historical context.
''It's very different today, when a single mother can receive benefits, when
a single mother is not stigmatised and discriminated against, when the
family doesn't encourage her to go away for six months and have the baby so
no one knows about it, and adopt the baby - these things don't happen today
and we need to look at it in that context.''
Professor Judd would not comment on whether victims would be eligible for
compensation, saying that was a government decision.
The apology has received a mixed
response from adoption advocacy groups. Kate O'Dwyer, convener of adoption
grief counselling group ARMS, described it as a ''quasi-apology'', and
called into question the claim that the hospital had not broken the law.
She cited the case of a 14-year-old mother who signed adoption papers in
1979, even though she was below the age of consent. Ms O'Dwyer said when the
mother returned to the hospital a week later, she was told her baby had been
''What the Royal Women's Hospital is doing is retraumatising women with this
quasi-apology,'' she said.
But VANISH, another advocacy group, welcomed the apology. ''What we know is
that many relinquishing mothers remember what happened to them daily, and
now someone in authority recognises their pain and loss,'' said VANISH
manager Coleen Clare.
The Royal Women's Hospital is the first in Victoria to apologise for forced
adoptions. In 2009, the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital issued an
apology. That same year, the Western Australian government also said sorry.
There are no accurate figures on forced adoption in Australia, but advocacy
groups estimate that more than 250,000 babies were taken away from the 1940s
to the early 1980s.
The Senate is conducting the first nationwide study of forced adoption,
examining the Commonwealth's role. The commission has received almost 400
submissions from relinquishing mothers, adopted children, advocacy groups
and welfare organisations. The findings are due on February 29.
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is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are
and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there
is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting
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