It now seems many young, single mothers were never given the option of keeping their child.
Unmarried mothers automatically had their hospital records marked ready for adoption - even before giving birth. There is evidence that some were sedated. Others were denied access to their babies as they were making crucial decisions about their future. As a result, these women have suffered terrible emotional distress throughout their lives.
This week reporter Geoff Thompson talks to some of the women who lost their children. Crucially, they reveal the truth about the way they were treated in the hours after they gave birth:
"(A nurse) started strapping up my right wrist. I was puzzled, I didn't know what she was doing, and then she secured me to the side of the bed... I became unconscious. And I don't know how long I was unconscious for, but when I eventually came to, my son was gone."
The program hears allegations that sedatives were used to help control young mothers and push them towards relinquishing their babies. As one person who's examined a variety of evidence says:
"I have no doubt that some illegal activity occurred, I have no doubt that women were subject to what nowadays... we would call abuse; that forged consents occurred."
The program also hears from the nurses and social workers of the time who claim that, while there might be evidence of wrong doing, most hospital staff acted in good faith:
"Most of them would say, 'I don't have to see my baby do I?' And you'd say 'No, you don't have to'... a young woman could not be forced to sign those (adoption) papers, could not be."
Over the past decade individual hospitals and the West Australian Government have offered an official apology to the women who lost their children. Now the Federal Government must decide if its policies contributed to the suffering. It also has to decide what can be done to help those involved and if a national apology is needed.
"Given or Taken?" Reported by Geoff Thompson and presented by Kerry O'Brien goes to air on Monday 27th February at 8.30 pm on ABC 1. It is replayed on Tuesday 28th February at 11.35 pm and can also be seen in ABC News 24 on Saturdays at 8.00 pm, on iview or at abc.net.au/4corners.
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