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Osanyin: Nigeria’s Medical Law Czar Steps Into Global Stage

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Osayin

AS an undergraduate Law student of the University of Lagos, Mr. Laolu Osanyin was privileged to have a mentor right from his first year in the university till he got to the Law School.

His mentor, Chinua Asuzu, a legal practitioner, had told him that to excel in practice, one needed to study the environment and look at niche areas that were unsaturated and develop oneself in that area. Osanyin took the advice hook, line and sinker and worked towards that after graduation.

That was how he found himself into Medical Law practice, which is still arguably at a pioneer status in the country.

Nevertheless, 15 years on, Osanyin has not only established himself in the field but has also risen to international fame on account of his practice. Recently, he was appointed into the Global Panel of Health Law Experts at the 55th Annual Conference of the American College of Legal Medicine, Las Vegas, United States of America.

Osanyin, while speaking with The Guardian in an interview, acknowledged the impact the early mentorship he underwent had on his career.

“I found a niche area and took interest in it and studied further in it for my Masters degree. I have been in practice for about 15 years now and it is an interesting area particularly if one likes research and study. Incidentally, I am also on the Editorial Board of Medical Malpractice Law Report, which means that I am at the front burner of all malpractice cases in Nigeria. And also by virtue of my international affiliations as well, I am also able to have comparative analysis of experiences from other countries. I am a member of the World Association for Medical Law and would be giving a speech at their meeting in Portugal this August. I will be speaking on “Ebola Patient Migration: Nigerian Medical-Legal Perspective”. So, it is an interesting area. But it is an area that is developing in Nigeria and it is a privilege that one is among the few individuals working to further develop it,” he said.

Osanyin, who also provides medical law training and consultancy services to Nigerian doctors, was appointed into the Global Panel of Health Law Experts by virtue of his research and work in the field of medical law generally.

He noted: “They were also fascinated by the fact that medical law is also growing in Nigeria. The panel is actually supposed to be a panel of experts in health law from other countries aside from America in order for them to cross-fertilise opinions on the development of health law in other countries as well. At the 55th conference where I was appointed into the panel with two other people — a lady professor from New Zealand and a medical lawyer from India — I delivered a paper titled “Development of Medical Law in Nigeria: Open Season of Malpractice Suits”. In the paper, I essentially spoke about the increase in petitions and litigations against Nigerian doctors. In the past few years, there has been a steady and consistent increase in lawsuits against hospitals and against healthcare professionals in Nigeria. So, people like me in this area of the law are getting quite busier by the day as doctors are being railroaded to the medical tribunal more frequently now than before for issues of medical negligence and malpractices.”

Osanyin explained that available statistics show that between 1960 and 2005, Nigeria had only 92 cases of malpractices, while between 2000 and 2007, the country recorded 190 cases, which represents a 200 per cent increase.

“As I speak to you now, even this statistics is getting outdated because I just came back from the medical tribunal last week. More doctors are being sued; patients are becoming aware that gone are those days where a patient would go into the theatre and death would be suspicious or the treatment would not be carried out properly or a foreign object would be left in the body of the patient and he/she would take it lying low. Now patients are asking questions and are willing to sue,” he added.

He attributed the increasing number of petitions at the medical tribunal to the increase in the level of education of Nigerian patients and medical tourism where patients travel abroad for treatment.

“When people go abroad and find out that prostrate cancer can be treated, they come back here and insist on that same standard that they get in other countries. So, you now find out that gone are those days when patients would die in hospitals and people would not ask questions. People are asking questions now and doctors are being held accountable for the management or lack of management of patients leading to death, deformity or even just pain and suffering. So, health law in Nigeria is now developing to the level where patients are getting knowledgeable.

“Unfortunately, the tragedy of it is that the doctors, on the other hand, are not equipping themselves in the area of medical law. You find that the average Nigerian doctor is not that conscious or knowledgeable about principles of medical law, so invariably they find themselves engaging in malpractices not because they are naturally reckless or negligent but because they don’t even know their rules of engagement with respect medical practice.”

He opined that to make Nigerian doctors to keep abreast of medical law, the subject should, as a matter of policy, be introduced into the curriculum of medical schools. Osanyin added: “Right now, I am the head of department of an organisation called Medical Tutors, which gives periodic medical law trainings to existing doctors. That is what we currently do with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN). However, we should go beyond that. I believe that medical law should be made compulsory in the curriculum of medical schools so that as they are learning medicine they are also learning medical law at the same time. We should not wait until they graduate before learning medical law because that is why you find doctors in Nigeria who don’t know what to do in certain instances and I will give examples.”

He continued: “There are many Nigerian doctors who do not know what to with a gunshot victim. Some Nigerian doctors might be asking for the mythical Nigerian Police permit, which does not exist. But the law expects that you commence treatment of a patient while you inform a law enforcement agency that you have a gunshot victim in your hospital. What does the Nigerian doctor do when he has a patient that refuses blood transfusion on religious grounds? You often find Nigerian doctors at crossroads in this regard. What does the Nigerian doctor do when the parents of a minor refuse blood transfusion for their child? Now the parent is not the patient; the patient is the child. There is a confluence of law and medicine when such case arises and you find out that the average Nigerian doctors is usually at a crossroad.

“What does the average Nigerian doctor do with respect to consent treatment and confidentiality in treatment? We find now that peoples’ medical records are being leaked to the social media. We find now where people have ailments or die in hospitals and even before the family is aware somebody has tweeted. What does the average Nigerian doctor do when a patient refuses medical treatment even when he/she knows that the refusal of that medical treatment could lead to his/her death? Those are the things that Nigerian doctors need to avail themselves with.”

He explained that patients in Nigeria can learn about medical law through enlightenment but noted that the MDCN has been working to enthrone best medical practices in Nigeria.

“Now, the MDCN is very active. If a patient suspects that he/she has not been properly treated in the hospital, he/she can easily petition the Council. The Council is the regulator of medical practice in Nigeria. When they receive such a petition, they investigate the mode of treatment of the patient and find out if the doctor is liable or not. But you find out that patients themselves don’t even know their medical rights,” he said.

Osanyin explained that the Global Panel of Medical Law Experts has been championing the development of medical law globally and urged Nigeria to domesticate some protocols the body has already established.

“Globally today, there are certain principles or protocols that are common to virtually all countries. And as we evolve, technology is also advancing as well. The panel of health law experts has been able to provide protocols that Nigeria should legislate upon. For example, the panel has been able to provide protocols on issues of organ donation, transplantation and assisted reproductive technology, among others, that led/lead to legislations in some countries. Some of the existing protocols have not yet been legislated upon in Nigeria and that is why we are having certain problems. Fortunately, we have the National Health Act which came into force last December but we need more legislation in specific areas.

“For instance, in Nigeria today, there is little or no legislation regulating assisted reproductive technology, where people donate sperm and egg. There are people who pay for sperm in Nigeria today and people who pay people to carry pregnancy to full term. When they deliver this child, they are paid off and they go. Is there any legislation stopping the lady that acted as a surrogate to carry the child from coming back in 10 or 20 years time to claim maternity of that child. What is the legislation stopping the boy that donates a sperm from demanding paternity of the child in subsequent years? So, we need to open our eyes and minds to such medical-legal issues that need to be legislated upon. I expect healthcare providers specialising in these areas to be interested in getting some of these legislations in place. Lawyers who are practitioners in this area should also be able to advocate even as patients have a huge role to play.”



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