From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Medical and legal experts have stressed the need for a national legal framework to regulate the activities of stakeholders in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) practice in Nigeria.
The experts are worried that 33 years after the first test-tube baby was delivered in Nigeria, there was still no legislation in place to guide against sheer negligence, abuse, exploitation, baby trafficking and other anomalies in the system.
They spoke in Asaba, Delta State, as panellists during the 2022 Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) annual conference with the theme: Legal Practice in Nigeria – Our Reality.
But the panel section which was chaired by Justice Flora Azinge of Delta State High Court spoke on the sub-topic: Assisted Reproduction and the Law.
Members of the panel included the Medical Director of Nordical Fertility Centre, Dr Abayomi Ajayi; Medicolegal Consultant, Laolu Osanyin; Acting Chief of Cross River State Customary Court of Appeal, Nkechi Usani; and Head of Legal Department of Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Joyce Esene.
Setting the tone for the discussion, the chairman of the panel, Justice Azinge, said ART has provided the needed succour for many couples who could not bear children naturally.
Azinge however said there were issues associated with the practice which must be addressed by all-embracing national legislation.
In his contributions, Dr Abayomi said there was the need to address the issues of cost of procuring ART; age limit of patients who want ART; the number of embryos to be transferred to a surrogate; marital status; donor garment; religion; and others.
“These are some of the things that are coming up. The doctor also needs to be protected by laws. The fertility preservation that the doctor also gives informed consent.
“Things are happening. Just like in every profession, there are cowboys, even in medicine, there are cowboys. How can we protect people from these cowboys?
“I will conclude by saying that it is high time we had a culturally sensitive national regulation to guide practice in this vital area of medicine.
“We should resist copy and paste. I belong to a group of fertility doctors who are doing something and we are asking that the NBA join us in doing it so that Nigeria and Nigerians will be safer,” he said.
On her part, Esene decried that the National Health Act which came into existence 25 years after the first test-tube baby was delivered, was not far-reaching as far as ART practice was concerned.
Esene contended that informed consent as the cornerstone of medical law, was not adequately captured in the Health Act, hence the need for an effective legal framework specifically for ART practice.
“For IVF, informed consent is very important as written consent, and also important for every step in the process.
“Evidence of informed consent must be present prior to every laboratory investigation in IVF or ART. Due diligence is part of informed consent. Non-compliance with the informed consent lays the foundation for unethical practice which leads to medical negligence or malpractice,” she said.
Esene said Lagos is the only state that has developed guidelines for ART practice but that it is not applicable outside the state because of jurisdiction.
“Other than Lagos State, other facilities operating ART could be compromised because they would want to protect the glory of the facility and the name.
“It takes only a medical doctor or healthcare provider who is upright to protect the ethics of the profession.
“There needs to be a distinct legal regime for ART. Lawmakers, NBA, and stakeholders should come together to create a good regime that would cover everything that needs to be covered – the ethical part, legal part and so on.
“ART has come to stay, it is now a reality which should be considered as our future,” Esene submitted.
Lending her voice to it, Usani said it was a “crying shame that up till now, 33 years after the first test-tube baby, we have no legislation.
“The best we have are the guidelines issued by Lagos State. Even if it sanctions medical personnel, it has no power or effect over the non-medical players in the ART industry who can indeed make things to be exploitative.
“I hope that at the of this what will come would be a specific legislation, homemade and tailor-made for our own ART industry.”