This past week, the highly anticipated ruling on a case involving a couple seeking surrogacy was postponed, prolonging the emotional and financial cost for everyone involved.
While surrogacy is a relatively new concept to many Rwandans, it is increasingly becoming an option for starting a family for people unable to conceive a child themselves — which partly explains why the ongoing legal battle has attracted public interest.
The legal battle comes after the couple spent at least 10 years on infertility treatment in vain. While surrogacy is not illegal in Rwanda, there is ambiguity on the process and rights for anyone interested in entering a surrogacy arrangement.
The absence of a clear legal framework is unfair to interested parties and creates room for abused of the process and violates the inherent human right to reproduction.
Given the largely conservative Rwandan society, there are many who cannot fathom surrogacy simply because they take it for granted that every woman and man is fertile.
Society continues to disproportionately exert pressure on couples to bear children underestimating the possibility and burden of infertility. Women tend to bear this burden more as society expects them to be fertile.
The ongoing court case provides both an opportunity to increase public awareness that infertility is a problem many Rwandans face and to educate the masses about assisted reproduction for people who most need it.
It is important that the general public understands why surrogacy may be the only option for some couples that have experienced recurrent miscarriage or repeated failure of fertility treatments, which are often very expensive and premature menopause.
There are also instances where the woman’s uterus may be damaged or where pregnancy might pose a serious health risk.
A comprehensive national plan is needed to address the challenge, identify gaps not only within the legal framework but also to develop specific public health programmes to raise awareness about preventable risk factors associated with infertility.
For such a plan to be truly comprehensive and effective, it would have to be evidence- based, consensus-driven, and developed and promoted by a coalition of stakeholders.
Those at risk for infertility and poor pregnancy outcomes need to be educated on inherent reproductive risks and options.
Discussions about infertility need to be encouraged to reduce stigma, and appropriate messages promote attitudes and behaviour to facilitate early access to infertility diagnosis and treatment.
More importantly, the government needs to put in place a legal framework to facilitate those who most need it and minimise the chances of abuse, in particular those who may seek to arrange or negotiate surrogacy as a commercial enterprise.
It is important there be public awareness about the risks, emotional demands and ensure there is full consent for everyone entering the arrangement.