A bill seeking to compel intending couples to undergo genotype test before getting married is currently in the upper chamber of the National Assembly. Sponsored by Senator Ahmed Ogembe (PDP Kogi Central) and Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC Delta Central), it was first read on March 28, 2017. Leading the debate on the bill, Senator Ogembe, who noted that its objective was to establish a clear legislative framework for the effective management of sickle cell disease which results from a mismatch of couples’ genotypes, indicated that the bill became necessary following the untold pains suffered by those living with the disease.
He said: “We simply want to avoid the anxiety, pain and death relating to sickle cell disease. We want to improve the lives of the often-forgotten citizens who live with it. Unknown to many, it is one of the biggest public health problems in Nigeria. Nigeria, from reports, is known to have the greatest number of people suffering from sickle cell disease in the world.” According to media reports, the bill enjoyed a hearty discourse on the floor of the Senate from the contributing lawmakers, the majority of whom lauded it.
It is very logical to identify with the lofty sentiments behind the presentation of the sponsors of this laudable bill, especially considering the fact that the innocent sufferers of the sickle cell disease have no role at all in their carrier-parents’ ignorant and faulty choices. If the Nigerian state has a bounden, statutory duty to protect lives, it had better be ready to influence the kind of lives its citizens bring forth. If, according to statistics, life expectancy is relatively low and early in Nigeria, it will indeed be pointless and dismal to worsen the situation with the prevalence of sickle cell disease that is preventable through enlightenment and public education.
The sufferers from the disease are the offspring of genetically-mismatched parents who under proper counselling ought not to have considered marriage in the first place, at least for the purpose of procreation. Their choice results in the miserable, painful and crises-ridden lives which the children are unfortunately consigned to. As expected, the lawmakers even considered the right to privacy and family life under Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution which the bill happily does not contradict.
If intending couples want their union to be endorsed by the Nigerian state, they have to comply with the provisions of the law that is expected to issue from the bill eventually. The dismal picture comes into a broader relief considering the finding of the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention that of the 300,000 global sufferers of the sickle cell disease, 225,000 are born in the sub-Saharan Africa, representing a whopping 75 per cent of the global figure! It is therefore almost exclusively an African thing, to which Nigeria has an immense contribution.
There cannot be any justifiable or logical reason to deliberately bring forth into the world, an innocent sufferer of the sickle cell disease just on account of the fundamental freedom to choose a partner. The reasonable suggestion is that bringing forth children afflicted by the disease is mostly done in ignorance and the time is ripe now to curb it through appropriate legislation. As for those living with the disease, we call on governments at all levels to do all that they can to ensure that they (the sufferers) get treatment at subsidised rates.
We endorse the bill fully and even applaud it on this basis. For compliance, we think that the government should employ persuasion, public education and enlightenment because it is also important to consider those who are born outside formalised relationships. While it may be easy for the state to compel those who want to legalise their relationships by obtaining wedding or marriage certificates from the state to do the test, how does the state control the type of children born from loose liaisons? These are the areas which the Senate should properly consider in its bid to enact this crucial legislation. We also call on the House of Representatives to endorse the bill.