Oireachtas surrogacy committee suspended after Senator accused of being ‘disrespectful’

Senator Sharon Keogan claims surrogacy is ‘harmful, exploitative and unethical’

A meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on International Surrogacy was suspended twice after a Senator was accused of being "disrespectful" towards witnesses.

The committee met on Thursday morning to hear from parents who have experienced international surrogacy and representative groups.

Independent Senator Sharon Keogan told the witnesses that she "wholeheartedly objects to the commercialisation of the human child and the relegation of women to the status of simply incubator or wombs for hire irrespective of whether you are heterosexual, single, lesbian gay or trans".

“Surrogacy I believe is harmful, it is exploitative and it is unethical. I don’t believe it is everyone’s right to have a child. It is a privilege to give birth and it can be dangerous even to those with the best medical attention.”

She said she did not want to see the birth mother “airbrushed” or “whitewashed” out of the process.

Elaine Cohalan, chairperson of the Assisted Human Reproduction Coalition, said committee members had a responsibility to lead the debate in a "dignified way".

“Inflammatory language and using undefined terms don’t benefit the debate. Our members are ordinary people who have been in some cases through harrowing experiences. We are Irish citizens, your constituents, you are our representatives.”

She said as a member of the LGBT community, “I can tell you, words matter.”

Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion, who was chairing, said she would not stand over a meeting "where there is any sort of disrespect to witnesses in this room".

Another witness, LGBT Ireland representative Claire O'Connell, said she took issue "with the suggestion that you don't believe everyone has a right to parent a child. Obviously you have your role here but the Irish courts disagree with you, as does the European Court of Human Rights".

Ethical decisions

Gearoid Kenny Moore, a representative for Irish Gay Dads, said he was asking for a framework that supports people to make ethical decisions in the interest of child, surrogate and intended parent. He said he had no problem with the role of the birth mother being recognised on a birth certificate after questions from Ms Keogan.

“Nobody here is trying to whitewash, as you mentioned, people out of the picture. We are trying to set up a framework to ensure they will never be taken out of the picture,” he said.

Ciara Merrigan, a representative of Irish Families Through Surrogacy, said she talks to her children every day about their surrogate mother. "We honour her every day. She is part of our lives." She said Ms Keogan's comments could be "slightly insulting to me and to my colleagues".

Senator Lynn Ruane said it took an emotional toll for the witnesses to tell their story.

“Outright opposing something because of a personal bigotry or belief is not critically engaging with a topic,” she said.

Ms Ruane appealed to Ms Keogan to “check your Christian values when you walk in every day. Respect, compassion, love. You don’t show it. You are crude and cold, and it is not OK.”

Ms Keogan replied that Ms Ruane’s comments were “very personal” and said “this is not an echo chamber for one view. It has to be a chamber for all views”.

Ms Funchion said she would have to suspend the meeting despite the fact people had waited a long time for it to happen. She told Ms Keogan “you know yourself you have been disrespectful at times over the last number of meetings”.

Ms Keogan told Mr Kenny Moore, the representative for Irish Gay Dads, “Gearoid, you are extremely lucky to be here today. You don’t know how lucky you are to be here today. I’ll tell you why.”

The meeting was then suspended.

After it was resumed, Ms Keogan said she wanted to finish her statement and she said there was a different group with 1,500 followers who wanted to appear but the “committee would not allow them...so when I made that comment, I was saying how lucky you are.”

Ms Keogan said she did not believe she had to apologise and believed she was the subject of “vicious personal attacks”. She was asked to leave and the meeting was again suspended.

Difficulties

Earlier, the witnesses had outlined the difficulties they faced with the surrogacy process.

Elaine Cohalan, chairperson of the Assisted Human Reproduction Coalition, said the lack of legislation on surrogacy in Ireland “affects the daily lives of children, surrogates and the intended parents in many ways including birth registration and citizenship entitlements, health care access, financial and tax inheritance.”

Ms Merrigan said she was the mother of three-year-old twins born through international surrogacy. “As it stands, our children only have one parent, their father, in the State who can provide legal protection and stability,” she said.

“The current process to allow the father assigned parental rights can take up to five years, depending on where in the country the court proceedings are taking place. This can effectively leave the child stateless and parentless until such a time as the father is granted the parental order. Without a second parentage, we as their mammies are seen as legal strangers to our children.”

In terms of healthcare she said one of the group’s members was told a six-week check up with their baby could not be completed because the father was not present.

Other members, she said, were told the father must be present for Covid-19 vaccinations. “If our children were hospitalised we legally cannot give medical consent for their care.”