Perspectives on medical law in Nigeria, an account from the World Congress on Medical Law

Editor’s Note: This week’s Thought Leadership Series on Health piece comes from Barrister ‘La-Olu Osanyin, who highlights Nigeria’s recent showing at the World Congress on Medical Law last month. He summarizes the three presentations made by Nigerians at the Congress, presentations that showcase several pertinent issues facing Nigerians in the medico-legal space. Osanyin himself was one of the presenters at the World Congress.

Medical malpractice lawsuits are a global phenomenon and Nigeria as a country is slowly but surely catching up with the reality of increasing patients’ awareness of their rights and expectations in relation to healthcare. This is becoming evident in the rising number of allegations and lawsuits against Nigerian healthcare workers practising in both private and public hospitals; in some instances, successful lawsuits against doctors has led to huge compensatory payments to patients and families of patients; and sometimes with severe sanctions such as suspension from medical practice or in extreme cases, removal from the register of doctors.

Relatively speaking, there are few medical and legal practitioners who specialize in medical law, but Nigeria was well represented at the recently concluded 22nd World Congress on Medical Law, which took place in Los Angeles, California from 7thto 11thAugust 2016.

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The World Congress on Medical Law is the annual gathering of global leaders in the field of Medical Law, organized annually by the World Association for Medical Law (WAML), established in Ghent, Belgium in 1967. The WAML promotes the study of the consequences of jurisprudence, legislation, and ethics of developments in medicine, healthcare, and related sciences.

The three Nigerian delegates who presented papers at this year’s World Congress were Barrister Laolu Osanyin, a Medical lawyer, Mrs. Folashade Adegbite, who teaches law at the University of Lagos, and America-based pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu. Other Nigerian attendees included the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria Registrar, Dr. Abdulmumini Ibrahim, and Mrs. Wuraola Aina of the Nigerian Medical Law Summit Group.

Adegbite’s presentation examined the double jeopardy effect of rape victims impregnated by their rapists. She highlighted the alarming juxtaposition of the situation facing young women raped by Boko Haram extremists against the current stringent existing abortion laws in Nigeria. She recommended that such victims be given the autonomous right to elective abortions.

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Osanyin, who is the Director General of the Nigerian Medical Law Summit Group, in his key paper examined the controversy surrounding the procedure for organ and tissue donations in Nigeria and the related debates on the provisions of the National Health Act.

In his view, these debates produced two schools of thought; the first raises alarm over the apparent legalization of the sale of organs and tissues by the National Health Act, asserting that the provision infringes on the fundamental rights of Nigerians to health by authorizing medical doctors to remove organs of living persons without their informed consent.

The second school of thought holds the view that the law is a much welcome development, as prior to the National Health Act there were unethical practices in organ and tissue donations through the activities of “organ merchants” who commercialized organ and tissue donations. They also argue that the National Health Act should not be read or considered in isolation from other laws and medico-legal protocols regulating medical practice in Nigeria. Doing so may have been what brought about the misinterpretation of the existing Nigerian laws on organ and tissue donations.

Osanyin’s paper reviewed existing Nigerian legislation and regulations governing procedures for access to organs and tissue donations in Nigeria to determine if the alarm raised against this new law is justified.

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The final Nigerian presentation at the World Congress was by Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian physician, forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who was the first to discover and publish findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players while working at the Coroner’s Office in Pittsburgh. His travails in the hands of American Football administrators, fans, fanatics, and enthusiasts was recently adapted into the Hollywood movie “Concussion”, starring Will Smith as Bennet Omalu.

Omalu in his presentation described Conformational Intelligence [CI] as a phenomenon where your intelligence, intuition, and imagination are controlled and constrained by the expectations, norms, and mores of society without your conscious awareness.

“We are always one of many, we always belong to a group, and we always belong to a society,” Omalu said, adding, “It is a phenomenon whereby the many control the one. 95% of us will always be within the standard deviation of the expected, with 5% of us within the margins, which produces a homogenization of thought. Unfortunately, society looks down upon those at the margins.”

He noted that a classic example of CI was the discovery of CTE in an American football player by a foreigner totally oblivious of American football, adding that, “Yet, because I was not expected to do so by society, my discovery was denied, ridiculed and even further marginalized.” Omalu recommended the need to recognize and address the constraints of CI in 21st-century business, public policy, legislative and scientific endeavors.

The one-week congress ended with an award presentation. The three presenters from Nigeria were awarded the Prof. Thomas Noguchi Medallion alongside others, in recognition of the insightful quality of their presentations.

Hopefully, the Nigerian participants in the Congress will be able to share the lessons they have learned from others at the event, and help strengthen the profession and practice of medical law in Nigeria.

Originally published at on September 6, 2016.

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We use informed advocacy and communication to influence health policy and seek better health and access to healthcare in Nigeria.

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