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Defending life from the moment of conception

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IVF doctor worth £38m raided by police after BBC documentary

6 March 2007

An IVF specialist has accused the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) of colluding with the BBC in an undercover documentary about his clinic. After the programme was broadcast, allegations were made that some patients were being misled into trying expensive, untested treatment and Mohamed Taranissi's clinic was searched by the HFEA using a police warrant. Neither the BBC nor the HFEA have commented on Mr Taranissi's allegations. [Daily Telegraph, 4 March] Dr Taranissi was photographed by the Sun newspaper surrounded by the babies of his former clients as part of an article strongly in favour of him. He states: "All I want to do is help my patients. For their sake, I will keep fighting. Of course there are days when I ask myself, 'Is it worth all this?' But the patients give me the strength to go on." [The Sun, 1 March] According to the previously cited Telegraph article, Dr Taranissi is one of the richest IVF doctors in Britain with a personal wealth estimated at £38 million.

Obstetric care in the UK is sharply criticised in a review of various data and studies in the Independent on Sunday. The article mentions the UK's maternal death rate (said to be one of the highest in Europe), the costs of compensation claims against the NHS (obstetric mishaps are responsible for a substantial proportion), and under-staffing in maternity units. 13 women die in childbirth per 100,000, a higher rate than Poland and Hungary. Professor Jason Gardosi of the NHS Perinatal Institute said that medical errors were going undetected because of lack of monitoring. [The Independent, 4 March] "This is a very exciting area which does really threaten to change the way we do prenatal diagnosis completely," said Dr Lyn Chitty, of the Institute of Child Health London and University College London Hospital, who is working on these blood tests with Professor Neil Avent, of the University of the West of England.

Researchers claim that within a few years they will be able to diagnose single gene disorders in unborn children by testing maternal blood. This would avoid the use of invasive tests such as amniocentesis. Currently maternal blood tests are only accurate enough to screen for the likelihood of certain conditions, but not for diagnosis. The new tests are being developed by Dr Lyn Chitty, of the Institute of Child Health London and University College London Hospital, and Professor Neil Avent, at the University of the West of England [Daily Telegraph, 5 March] A woman who was the carrier of a degenerative genetic condition had blood tests to identify the sex of her unborn children. The article speaks of avoiding 'the risk of a later termination' if the child had been a boy and therefore a potential recipient of the gene. [Daily Telegraph, 5 March]

Research published in the March issue of The American Journal of Pathology has suggested that bone marrow stem cells could be used to treat male infertility. Scientists, led by Dr Ronald S Swerdloff of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, injected infertile mice with bone marrow cells taken from mice, which demonstrated the potential of bone marrow stem cells to differentiate into the cells involved with sperm production. [Medical News Today, 3 March]

A priest and geriatric oncologist has reminded a conference of Catholic health care ethicists that there is more to Church teaching than 'dilemmas and controversies.' Father Myles N Sheehan told the conference held at the Loyola medical school in Chicago: "People are ethically illiterate rather than understanding that they are heirs to a great tradition." He criticised the tendency of ethics committees to 'have great fights but ignore the suffering that is in front of them' and argued that palliative care should begin much earlier rather than a patient being sent to a hospice just days before death. [Catholic News Service, 2 March]

Christian leaders in Sweden have appealed to the Minister of Health and Social Affairs against plans to open abortion facilities to foreign women. In an article published in Sweden's biggest newspaper, Catholic Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm and Sten-Gunnar Hedin, the leader of the Pentecostal church, wrote: "As Christians we are deeply worried that the Swedish government is preparing a new bill in which foreign women are given the possibility to come here and have late abortions done...We ask instead to have a policy asking our rich country, Sweden, to do more for the women who need help to bear their children, both in our own country and abroad." [Zenit, 4 March]

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano has praised a doctor who resigned as advisor to the College of Physicians after his colleagues decided not to take action against the anaesthetist who disconnected Piergiorgio Welby's respirator. Dr Stefano Ojetti described Welby's death as a 'sad and dark page in the history of our medicine.' [Zenit, 4 March]

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