A former Hunter New England Health chief executive and anaesthetist has defended medical staff who delivered babies that were put up for adoption between the 1950s and 1970s.
Dr Owen James said all obstetric units in Newcastle, including those at the former Royal Newcastle and Western Suburbs hospitals and Belmont Hospital, followed the same procedures.
"I gave epidurals to quite a few [women] in order to make their delivery as smooth as possible," he said.
"And held their hand during delivery. All delivery staff were professionally correct.
"It was felt that the mother should not have to retain the trauma of physical or visual contact with a baby she was giving to others."
Dr James said the Catholic-run former Newcastle Mater Misericordiae Hospital had been singled out for criticism regarding past adoption practices.
Hunter Catholic organisations on Monday publicly apologised to victims of a "stolen white babies generation" in which young unmarried women were forced into surrendering their children at birth during the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
It came 14 years after the matter was raised in State Parliament and reported in the Newcastle Herald.
Parliament heard then that Hunter Valley mothers had been drugged, brainwashed, coerced and bullied into giving up their newborn babies for adoption through illegal activities.
The now retired Dr James began his career in 1959, working in general practice and anaesthetics in Australia and overseas.
He was the former Royal Newcastle's anaesthetics and intensive care director until becoming the Hunter area health service's chief executive in the mid-1980s. Dr James and the health service board was sacked in 1991 after opposing the Greiner government's planned closure of Wallsend Hospital.
He later claimed unfair dismissal from the service and gained a confidential settlement from the state government.
Dr James said yesterday that practices undertaken in hospitals from the 1950s to 1970s were different to the present.
"Adoption was then accepted practice for pregnant unmarried teenagers throughout Australia," he said.
"At that time infertile couples had no access to IVF or overseas adoption and welcomed the opportunity to take another lady's baby into their home."
Dr James said in his experience, women who offered their babies for adoption were treated properly and with the same courtesy given to others.
But he also recognised the trauma that women who gave a baby away felt.
He said he could not comment on claims from women of being drugged, brainwashed, coerced and bullied into giving up their newborn babies for adoption.
But public blame was being undeservedly heaped on the Catholic-run former Mater, he said.
"A lot has been made of the Mater being a Roman Catholic hospital and so treated these mothers with some disdain," he said.
"Being Catholic has nothing to do with the matter."
Hunter New England Health chief executive Michael DiRienzo said yesterday the health service acknowledged the mothers and families affected by past adoption practices.
"We hope these families are able to find some solace in the apology provided by the organisations involved," he said.
"Hunter New England Local Health District is not aware of any specific cases involving our facilities.
"We encourage people affected by the revelations of the past few days to take advantage of the support being offered."
Catholic Health Australia chief executive officer Martin Laverty declined to comment yesterday.
But he reflected on the scope of adoption practices between the 1950s and 1970s in a submission to a Senate inquiry now under way.
"Over the last two decades a number of people have come forward to governments, hospitals and different churches with concerns about adoption practices that were regrettably common in many maternity hospitals across Australia in the past," the submission said.
Mr Laverty has suggested a national scheme involving state and territory governments, community agencies and church bodies to assist women, children and their families.
Hunter manager of support group Origins, Therese Pearson, said yesterday that while past adoption practices applied in public as well as Catholic hospitals, women were offered no support.
"So, you know, Dr Owen can put his statement in if he wants to and he might have been a good doctor," she said.
"But none of those women wanted to give up their babies.
"They were forced to give their babies up."
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