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On Ruth Morrissey's passing... CervicalCheck and the continuing aftermath

It was with a heavy heart this past weekend that I read the news about the passing of Ruth Morrissey, fearless cancer campaigner and 'national hero' last Sunday, survived by her husband and young daughter.

The reaction to her death all of this week has been one of grief, sadness and a renewed acknowledgement of the failure of the State in the entire Cervical Check test results scandal.

Her family have made a personal statement that is truly heartbreaking and a fitting tribute, as detailled in Legal Affairs Correspondent Orla O'Donnell's tweet on the 19 July:

It was only in October last year during my PPC1 course when another brave woman, Emma Mhic Mathuna. who has also since passed away, was the focal point of my Legal Presentation workshop, where trainees were required to recite a speech about a recent noteworthy current affairs story, which you can read along with my public speaking journey here.

Another woman who was a beacon in the fight against injustice for women and a proponent for women's health is no longer with us.

The Cervical Check test scandal has been written on many times, critically observed as a watershed moment for the Health Services Executive and the State, regarded as a paramount failure to those 206 women who received incorrect smear test results and developed cervical cancer as a result of that laboratory reading error, of which 162 women and their families were not informed of this error.

A very helpful summary of the facts and main points can be found in Simon Carswell's article in the Irish Times on 1st May 2018, which can be read here.

It has been over two years and the effects are still being felt to this day.

But there have been many beacons of hope that have emerged despite the overwhelming failure: the campaigner Vicky Phelan, who set the entire movement in motion following a publicised High Court action and settlement, remains a crystal clear voice of reason and dignity, allowing the country to see her battle both the disease that has taken hold of her, witness her continued efforts to draw attention to the health service failings while calling for those in power to take responsibility and enact the stringent recommendations set out in the scoping inquiry into CervicalCheck report of Doctor Gabriel Scally.

Ms. Phelan's reaction to Mrs. Morrissey's death was profoundly raw, as can be seen in her tweets on the 19th July. The bond and camaraderie between all the women engaged in this justice campaign is incredibly inspiring, not hesitating in taking the HSE and the sub-contracted testing laboratory to the High Court.

Utterly fearless: Ruth Morrissey, left and Vicky Phelan.

It is an often repeated hallmark when it comes to this group of courageous women of refusing to back down, despite the prevailing threat of illness and exhaustion, of not being heard or being readily dismissed.

Thankfully, this has not been the case, as Mrs. Morrissey's message and Ms. Phelan's resilience have been taken to heart and remain a source of inspirational bravery, in ensuring that the next generation of women and girls will be given due protection and assurance that their oncologist, doctor and health service will not fail them.

I will admit to my readers that I write this post only as an interested, sympathetic observer. My legal experience does not extend towards medical law, which is a complex, detailled area that trainees can study as an elective on the PPC2 course with the Law Society of Ireland. The depth of medical negligence litigation and successful settlements is vast and often the subject of stark media headlines, of passionate discussions, polarised opinions and steep costs, both financial and human.

I write this post today from the perspective of a future member of the legal profession, as an officer of the court who may very well defend a personal injury claim, who will hear the story of another brave individual facing massive odds and who may very well find themselves in the centre of media attention.

While I am not a lobbyist or a dedicated policy-maker, it would surely be in the interest of human rights and safety for womens' health for there to be stringent safeguards put in place to avoid such a catastrophe to ever happen again.

As someone who firmly believes the rights of women should be fully vindicated and given just recognition and protection by the judiciary and legislature, this ought to be a reality and the difficult conversation ought to not simply resurface during any instance of painful tragedy.

As stated by Lorraine Courtney in her article published in the Irish Times, Ruth's treatment by the State was a scandal that as a nation we cannot allow to be repeated.

Thank you for reading. To all my readers and colleagues, I hope you continue to stay safe during these troubling times.

You can donate to Irish Cancer Society via their website.

You can also donate to Ruth Morrissey's hospice, the Milford Care Centre.

Further reading:

The Scally report: http://scallyreview.ie/?page_id=90

Health Service Executive plan to implement the proposals of the Scally report: https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/news/media/scally-interim-report-implementation-plan/

Vicky Phelan's Twitter account: https://twitter.com/PhelanVicky

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