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Dearth of medical research on effect of egg donation

“Not everything in life is for sale, nor should it be” Jerry Brown, Governor of California, USA once said.

That trafficking in human organs through hospitals and private clinics has been backed by law, advertently or inadvertently is disquieting enough. Our only comfort is that concerned lawyers are taking the matter to the courts to have the law redressed.

Reacting to the seeming unawareness of the law makers who were instrumental to passing the bill in the first place, Dr. Obiezulu Chikammadu, a volunteer health professional with the Doctors Health Initiative (DHI), a human rights medical intervention organisation said it was scandalous to say the least.

“But learning first hand again that unsuspecting cash strapped young students, ladies and women in need of money in Nigeria are being lured with cash to have their ovarian eggs harvested for money is upsetting.”

A recent article by Obi Onochie titled ‘What manner of hospitals?’ presented a picture of the serious lapses that exist in the healthcare sector in Nigeria due to a weak regulatory health ministry.

The presence of a large number of unregulated health providers in the country means that many Nigerians are at the mercy of incompetent medical personnel who continue to sustain national death indices. A clear mandate conferred on the Federal Ministry of Health is to safeguard the health of the nation primarily through the formulation of policies that promote wellbeing and longevity. That mandate is on paper but the reality is quite different.

The National Health Bill controversy that raged on for the greater part of 2012 to 2013 resurfaced again last year.

“That the satirical problem has changed name best describes what the proponents of the NHB 2014 have failed to grasp,” Obiazulu told The Daily Times

“For the information of the general public with little knowledge of the debate, let it suffice to say that a change of numbering from Article 53 to Articles 51, 52 & 53 means very little when the essence of the message remains the same.

“I would like to present an argument with the hope that discerning Nigerians will draw the right conclusions and begin to demand for answers.

Recently, a young undergraduate of the University of Lagos ended up in the Intensive Care Unit of the University’s teaching hospital. She came in with a distended abdomen caused by her ovaries that had ballooned to ten times their original size. This disorder occurred as a direct reaction to the high levels of hormones administered to stimulate her ovaries to produce dozens of eggs. These eggs were destined to be harvested and sent to an IVF clinic that had requested for egg donations from young women who were kind enough to help other women have children – be part of a miracle and help someone have a family! The incentive offered was N20,000. As much as this selfless act appears to be, it certainly is a risky gamble to trade in one’s health and fertility for another.

“The award-winning 2013 documentary ‘Eggsploitation’ is a must watch. A free viewing took place in my office on a late Friday afternoon, as expected all interested parties were female. As expected, the reaction was one of disbelief expressed in familiar terms, ‘It’s not true!’ as if expressed denial would wipe out the import of the words and images before them.

“Briefly, the documentary is an exposé of egg donation and its consequences. The story centred around six young American women who donated their eggs and now live out the consequences everyday of their lives – from a partial stroke to breast cancer, a perforated ovary to an ophorectomy…one will never have biological children of her own. The basic message was about caution. The lack ofmedical research to follow up on the effect of egg donationon the general health and fertility of these anonymous donors is telling.

“Now enter the NHB Law. This is Nigeria. I bet you that the Health ministry will be hard pressed to produce statistics to indicate the exact number of clinics and hospitals in Nigeria. I stand to be corrected.

”Egg donor clinics can be found in Lagos, Kaduna, Ilorin and in many more cities. Do women donate their eggs at these clinics freely? Are they informed of the risks that this procedure might have on their ability to have children in the future? Are they monitored in the long term to ensure that there is no adverse reaction to the volume of hormones pumped into their systems? Could there be the added danger that masses of young, ignorant and poor women will be coerced into giving up their eggs without due consent? You know better than I what the answers to these questions will be.

Nigeria and the third world as a whole is a virtual minefield for the fertility industry. Our women will not produce enough eggs fast enough to fuel the insatiable demand needed for stem cell research and assisted reproduction.

I see a market economy of supply and demand where monetary gain supersedes any humane considerations. I remember the images of those young illiterate women found in the so-called baby factory in Abia State who sold their infants for money. Egg donor programmes will be conducted without ethical informed consent, but on the basis of ‘food for eggs’. Egg-trafficking, organ-trafficking, child-trafficking, women-trafficking…all join!”

A February 2011 Report from Global Financial Integrity about Transnational Crime In The Developing World estimates that the illegal organ trade generates profits between $600 million and $1.2 billion per year, India suffered the effects of unregulated organ transplant industry that led to an increasing number of poor peasants losing their vitals (without their consent) to people willing to pay any price to secure an organ.

As a result, India’s lawmakers passed the Transplantation of Human Organs Act in 1994 giving clear guidelines regarding authority for removal of human organs, regulation and registration of hospitals, appropriate authority, offences and penalties.

The new National Health Law opens the door to abuses because our legislators have not cared enough to read between the lines, or quite frankly do not care what passes as long as the price is right.

Here are the key concerns about the bill as related to the theme of this article. Firstly, articles 48, 51 & 52 contain blanket statements such as the ‘removal of tissue’. Not being qualified, this could represent a spectrum spanning from the insignificant removal of a finger nail to life-threatening actions like the removal of a heart or viable foetus.

Read between the lines…this is an opening that could be used to justify a range of unethical practices. Secondly, Article 51 contains a serious ambiguity. It states the prohibition of cloning and all forms of genetic manipulation but then goes further to state otherwise that a prior written approval of the minister is required.

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