In praise of the IVF ‘miracle maker’

A mother treated at Mohamed Taranissi’s groundbreaking clinic in London defends him against the Panorama/HFEA witch-hunt.

Cheryl Hudson

Topics Science & Tech

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I have Mohamed Taranissi’s groundbreaking IVF clinic to thank for my beautiful son. And many more parents have had children thanks to the insights and efforts of the ‘miracle makers’ at his London clinic. So why are the regulators of human fertilisation work in Britain, who claim to protect our interests, now witch-hunting Mr Taranissi?

His clinic, the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre (ARGC), is the most successful in Britain. Yet on Monday it came under assault from both the media and the industry regulator, in what appears to be a collaborative effort to undermine the credibility and reputation of the clinic and its chief consultant, Taranissi. On the same day that the BBC TV aired a Panorama special investigative report on the clinic, in which undercover journalists posed as infertile women, the regulatory body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), launched a police-assisted raid on both the ARGC and Taranissi’s other clinic, the Reproductive Genetics Institute (RGI).

The HFEA has denied that it worked in tandem with Panorama, instead claiming that the timing of the raid on the same day that the programme aired was purely coincidental. However, it certainly looks like a publicity stunt, and it’s not the kind of thing you would expect from what is supposed to be an impartial regulator with an ongoing inquiry into and legal dispute with a doctor. It raises questions not only about standards in public life but more pressingly: Why have they got it in for him?

Taranissi’s relationship with the HFEA has been a strained one. The fact that the ARGC has a fairly aggressive approach to the treatment of infertility means that as well as topping the HFEA’s own published league tables for IVF success rates for the past 11 years, the ARGC continually pushes against the current boundaries of ethical treatment. For instance, Taranissi pushed for the HFEA to allow preimplantation genetic diagnosis of embryos (PGD) in order that parents might produce a baby whose cord blood could possibly cure a sick older sibling. After there was widespread publicity and support for the successful treatment of British child Charlie Whitaker in this way, the HFEA finally dropped its official opposition to the use of PGD for such purposes.

It seems that Taranissi has been a bit of a thorn in the side of the HFEA, continually forcing it to rethink its extremely cautious approach to new treatments. For its part, the HFEA seeks to portray him as obstructionist, placing his clinic at the bottom of their table for compliance with industry standards – without, it seems, providing any breakdown of the way the results were compiled.

As well as getting up the noses of the regulator, Taranissi’s leadership and success in the field of infertility treatment has led to much resentment among his colleagues in the field. The fertility industry teems with doctors who sneer when his name is mentioned. This I know through personal experience; I went through a period of infertility and suffered recurrent miscarriages, and many of the fertility doctors I came into contact with had something negative to say about him. I was intrigued by the professional jealousy directed towards this extremely successful London consultant, often by doctors who usually told me there was nothing they could do for me and that I should adopt, try again, or just give up. Perversely, perhaps, it made me wonder what he had going for him and I sought a consultation at the ARGC to find out. This happily resulted in the birth of my son. After seeing, firsthand, the rivalries involved in the fertility profession, it did not surprise me in the least that Panorama could compile an impressive panel of experts to criticise Taranissi’s work.

Fertility treatment is an area of much uncertainty; it is fraught with ethical concerns. More research needs to be done, for sure, but advances will not be made if an over-cautious approach is taken. Attacks on those who are trying to push things forward because they irritate the regulator, or provoke jealousy among their colleagues, or are simply making a lot of money, will not help this state of affairs. In a climate in which there is a general fear and distrust of experimentation, we need people like Taranissi, people who are willing to challenge the status quo and experiment with new approaches. The ARGC was the first clinic to freeze and thaw human eggs, the first to perform PGD, and it is among the leaders in the field of reproductive immunology.

This latter area – immunological treatments – was of central concern to the BBC’s expert panel. While it is certainly a contested area of treatment, the Panorama programme did not mention that one of the experts it interviewed – Lesley Regan of St Mary’s miscarriage clinic – is herself overseeing a clinical trial into the effect of Natural Killer Cells on implantation. When I visited Regan’s clinic as a patient, I was told to await the outcome of this clinical research, which would have been published when I reached 40 years of age – that is, when my fertility would be seriously compromised by my age. I was glad to have the opportunity to try the treatment immediately at the ARGC.

As a former IVF patient and now a mum, I strongly object to the way that the Panorama programme portrayed patients as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘desperate’. I was actually rather well-informed; I was aware of the research and successful treatments conducted in the United States (where there is very little regulation of IVF clinics); and I was strong-willed enough not to take no for an answer. None of the women I know who has been through IVF at the ARGC was manipulated or exploited; they knew what they were going in for because Taranissi and his staff are very clear about the nature of the treatment and the risks and benefits involved.

Of course, IVF has no guarantees and it is a shame that it cannot be provided in a timely and cost-free manner on the National Health Service. But in the current situation, where 80 per cent of IVF treatments are private, many couples will lose money on the gamble that is fertility treatment. That is not any one individual’s fault, and, in fact, the high success rate of the ARGC means fewer couples are disappointed there than elsewhere. It is a shame that the BBC’s reporters did not see fit to interview some of Taranissi’s real patients rather than sending in journalists in an underhand subterfuge. I think they would have heard a very different story: one of a dedicated, hardworking and honest doctor, whose success comes largely from his close attention to detail and his amazing accessibility. As a patient of his, I was given his personal mobile phone number to call in case of any concerns or questions. I was also monitored daily, receiving phone calls to remind me of the dosage and timing of drug administration.

My son turned two in November. He is a constant reminder to me not only of luck and love, but of the miracle that is modern medicine.

Parents and IVF patients will stage a protest/party outside the ARGC IVF clinic in Upper Wimpole Street on Sunday 21 January 2007 at 1.30pm in protest at the Panorama programme and the police raids ordered by the HFEA on the ARGC and RGI clinics. Email Cheryl Hudson at {encode=”” title=””} for more information. Join the discussion about Taranissi’s clinic at the Fertility Friends website here.

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Topics Science & Tech


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