Solomons, Michael Joseph Maurice (1919–2007), physician and family planning advocate, was born 3 May 1919 in Dublin, the second child among two sons and one daughter of Bethel Solomons (qv), a prominent obstetrician and gynaecologist, who became master of the Rotunda hospital and president of the RCPI, and his wife Gertrude (née Levy); his elder brother, Bethel, became a consultant dermatologist. Descended from an Ashkenazic family settled in Ireland from the 1830s, his father had renounced orthodox Judaism during his youth, and the family remained of a liberal persuasion and proudly Irish.
Educated at Sandford Park School in Ranelagh, Dublin, where he played rugby and boxed, then for a time in Zurich, Switzerland, where he learned German, Michael finished his schooling in Gordonstoun School, Elgin, Scotland. Commencing medical studies at TCD (1937), he won colours at rugby, captained the tennis club, and was secretary of the biological association. Graduating MB, BAO, B.Ch. (1941–2), he trained for a year in Baggot Street hospital, then for three months in the National Children's Hospital. Already 'a born midwife' according to his father (One doctor, 150), Michael commenced his postgraduate training in the Rotunda, serving as a clinical clerk (c.1942–3). He supervised external deliveries and decided when mothers required admittance for delivery; standard obstetrical training comprised the supervision of eighteen home and two in-patient deliveries. Most births took place at home with a gradual shift towards in-patient delivery commencing in the 1950s.
Exposure to the grinding poverty prevalent in the north Dublin inner city surrounding the Rotunda greatly influenced Solomons for the rest his life. After assisting with ten deliveries, obstetricians were dispatched alone to direct home births. Premature babies were taken to the Rotunda in shoeboxes lined with cotton wool; wartime rationing meant the most useful tool for an attending obstetrician was a torch. The paucity of patient education and antenatal care meant avoidable complications were common. Poverty of education and social provision were further accentuated by the preponderance of large families in small homes; 11.8 per cent (ninety-three of 785) of the home deliveries Solomons attended as clinical clerk in 1943 were of babies born to women on at least their tenth pregnancy. Marvelling at the courage and patience of mothers alongside the care and support provided by familial and social networks, Solomons later recalled how for years afterwards he was greeted with 'How a' ya, doctor' by the stallholders of Moore Street (Pro life?, 10).
Qualifying as a doctor in June 1944, he trained at the Chelsea Hospital for Women, London, where he heard the subject of contraception freely discussed by colleagues for the first time. Serving as a medical officer in the RAF (1945–7) and stationed at Ely, Cambridgeshire, he attended gynaecological clinics at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. On leaving the RAF, he served as a registrar at Addenbrooke's from September 1947. Returning to the Rotunda in November 1948, he was appointed one of two assistant masters for a three-year term. Commencing private practice in November 1951, he took rooms in his parents' home on Fitzwilliam Square. Appointed assistant gynaecologist at Mercer's Hospital (1956), he held consultant posts at the Royal City of Dublin (Baggot Street), Drumcondra and Rotunda hospitals. He served as examiner in obstetrics and in midwifery for the RCPI from 1962, was a fellow of the RCPI and member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and was honorary secretary to the medical board of Drumcondra hospital (1968–74). He published articles in the Lancet, the British Medical Journal and the Irish Journal of Medical Science.
In 1951 he was introduced to Dr Mary Redding, a family planning advocate, who invited him in 1959 to attend sessions of the North Kensington family planning clinic, London, where he met Joan Rettie of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). Rettie and the IPPF were often contacted by Irish women, and henceforth, with his agreement, supplied Solomons' name and address in Dublin. This marked the first time that public, as opposed to private, patients in Ireland had access to family planning advice. The sale of all contraceptives was proscribed in Ireland and Solomons was perturbed by the avoidable suffering borne by many women who endured continual pregnancies and the ensuing life-threatening complications. His lifelong defence of the right to contraception emanated from his belief that 'the human cost of continual pregnancy was to be a death sentence' (Pro life?, 12).
Distressed at the level of ignorance about sexual and reproductive health prevalent in Irish society, he wrote a manual of human fertility for a general audience. Addressing the basic facts of reproduction, Life cycle (1963) discussed puberty, marriage, intercourse, conception, labour, birth, and infertility. Solomons was careful to consult widely amongst the Irish churches, adopting an ecumenical and non-confrontational approach, making no reference to contraception. The result was a 'dignified and frank' (Ir. Times, 6 February 1968) discussion that was generally well received; it went into paperback and was a milestone of sexual education in Ireland. He also wrote occasional articles on women's reproductive and health issues for Woman's Way magazine, published in Ireland from 1963.
Solomons was a founding member of the Fertility Guidance Clinic Ltd on Merrion Square, Dublin, established in October 1969 with a grant from the IPPF. Expanding in Dublin and across the country, in July 1973 the organisation was renamed the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA). Solomons oversaw the provision of contraceptives and medical referrals with sensitivity and concern for patients. He was a driving force and a prominent spokesperson for the association, served as treasurer of its finance committee, and gave many lectures on family planning to women's groups and voluntary organisations. From 1970 he lectured on family planning to medical students at TCD (the first Irish medical school to incorporate this into undergraduate training); the Rotunda established a family planning clinic in 1972. Addressing the obstetrics section of the RAMI in 1974, he decried the inattention of other Dublin maternity hospitals to family planning and for not offering Irish medical students training in sexual education, asserting: 'My life as a doctor would be incomplete if I had been unable to provide advice on contraception and marital problems. The potential of marriage is too good to be spoiled by ignorance, fear or unplanned and uncontrolled reproduction' (Ir. Times, 21 January 1974).
Solomons was one of the six members appointed (1979) to an IMA committee to examine the efficacy and functioning of intrauterine devices. They deliberated for twelve months, and their report, published in the Journal of the Irish Medical Association (May 1980), lacked consensus and did not make any concrete recommendations. Solomons was greatly aggrieved when avowedly pro-life members of the committee publicly sought to use its imprimatur in support of their views. He was one of twelve consultant obstetricians who publicly opposed the wording of the 1983 abortion referendum, which he criticised as sectarian, arguing that it sought to enshrine denominational moral values in the constitution. At the fulcrum of public and academic medico-legal debates surrounding contraception and abortion from the 1970s, he drew on the elevated sanctity of the mother over her child found in Judaic medical doctrine (which promoted large families alongside acceptable use of contraception), and only favoured abortion in extremely limited medical circumstances. Promoting sexual education to counter 'fear, ignorance and embarrassment' (Pro life?, 19) and the commodification of sexuality increasingly prevalent in the media, Solomons strongly defended the distinction of those legitimately advocating family planning and sexual education from those favouring abortion. He wrote a memoir, Pro life?: the Irish question (1992), offering a reflective and philosophical account of sexual politics in Ireland from the 1930s, written against the acrimonious debates of the 1980s.
Solomons gave evidence regarding abortion to the all-party oireachtas committee on the constitution in May 2000. He favoured abortion in limited medical circumstances, commenting with regard to the 'X case': 'I can foresee other cases in the future where there will be similar or comparable situations where a young woman is suffering and is not being treated with any – I'll be careful about this – Judaic or Christian understanding while I respect moral scruples of every other religion, I do not necessarily agree with them all.' (Fifth progress report, A139).
Solomons married (1952) Joan Maitland, daughter of George and Molly Maitland; they had a son and a daughter. He sold the family home at 42 Fitzwilliam Square in 1982, moving to 48 Wellington Road, where he transferred his consulting rooms the following year. Solomons retired in 1988, but remained involved with the IFPA and undertook some occasional private consultations; the IFPA later named their Dublin headquarters Solomons House. He was awarded an Involved Ireland Award (2001), presented by President Mary McAleese, for his prolonged involvement in family planning in Ireland. Solomons followed in his father's footsteps by serving as long-time president of the Dublin Jewish Progressive Congregation from the early 1970s. He was president of Dublin University RFC (1988) and active in Herbert Park Croquet Club. He died 5 November 2007.