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Ghana Connect: Unregulated womb renting

The sad story of a 23 year old surrogate mother, Vanga Ariane Denise pregnant with quadruplets for a couple she has never met broke the hearts of many this week.

Social media went abuzz following the heartbreaking story which shed light on a booming unregulated Ghanaian fertility industry .

Questions abound over whether it was right to permit such a service in the country and why the government has failed to establish laws protecting both intended parents and donors and surrogates.

Panelists on today's Ghana Connect, a lawyer, an agent, a childless couple and a counselor discussed fertility options, and the lack of regulation in the booming industry.

Ishmael and Selma, a childless couple discussed the frustration and stigmatization experienced in their seven-year-long struggle to have their own child.

Doctors have advised that the couple undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) a procedure which currently costs about $5000 a session in Ghana, which will have Selma's eggs fertilized with her husband's sperm outside of her womb and introduce the resulting embryo into her womb.

The expensive procedure however does not guarantee pregnancy and is well outside of the couples' budget.

The couple expressed their reluctance to use a surrogate instead of the expensive IVF, as they had concerns over confidentiality. They worried about the possibility of a surrogate showing up to claim their child for instance, or blackmailing them in future.

Ishmael insisted he would rather adopt a child than seek the services of a surrogate.

Despite her qualms regarding surrogacy, Selma felt truly bad to hear about the case of Denise Vanga. This, she said, is a girl who is trying to help someone who really needs a child but instead she is suffering. Knowing she would love nothing more than to hold a child in her arms, she could not fathom why a surrogate would be treated so poorly.

A fertility agent, Mr. Ocantey denied allegations that women are necessarily recruited into offering their services. It will surprise you, he said, the number of women who walk in and say “I want to assist, I want to be a donor or I want to be a surrogate mother. They are aware there are agencies that do these things”.

Agencies, such as his, he said were there to assist needy couples. Women offering their services, he said were screened, counseled and fully informed of their responsibilities before introduction to the fertility centres.

Proper agencies, he said, would provide accommodation for the women they recruit, he said. It therefore came as a surprise to him that Denise was in the situation in which she found herself.

He agreed that there was a need for regulation.  
A lawyer with the Legal Assistance Network, Irene Aborchie-Nyahe bemoaned the lack of policies and laws supervising fertility agencies in the country.

The level of potential and ongoing exploitation, she said, is sickening and for a government which should protect its citizens, Ghana is way behind.

In black market environments, baby manufacturing “homes” pop up, where a Madam pays men to impregnate young girls in her care. Such Madam's are often paid huge amounts of money for the babies, which they sell to needy parents while the poor girls enslaved by her would be paid pittance if at all.

Extreme situations, such as this, she said, are reasons why it is imperative that regulations be put in place, to protect the interests of donors, surrogates, and intended parents.

She questioned the lack of a written contract in Denise's case. “One should never go into such a contract without a lawyer,” she said.

Speaking to Denise did nothing to calm her disquiet, when the surrogate mother revealed that following the JoyNews report, the fertility centre in question, Mount Camel fertility centre has called her in to make her demands “so that she will go and clear their name on the radio stations”.

Denise revealed that the fertility centre has been mounting pressure on her to sign an agreement.

Nana Yaw Osei, a fertility counsellor and CEO of the Association of Childless Couples of Ghana, added his voice to that of the lawyer, and advised Denise not to sign the agreement.

There's a lot to consider, he said, questioning what happens if something happens to the intended parents for instance. He also questioned why the fertility centre had placed so many embryos within Denise.

Such an agreement, he said should protect the surrogate in the event that the intended parents should die before they can claim the baby, or should she lose the babies before term.

The programme concluded with Denise agreeing with the advice offered by Irene and Nana Yaw, and accepting an offer of assistance by the fertility counsellor.

Listen to the discussion below:

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