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Raids on IVF clinics ruled unlawful

4 July 2007
Appeared in BioNews 414

Raids carried out earlier this year by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), on IVF clinics run by the pioneering fertility expert Mohamed Taranissi, have been ruled unlawful by the High Court of Justice. The case was expected to go to a full hearing, but was concluded when the HFEA conceded that the evidence presented to magistrates under oath in the application for warrants was insufficient. The High Court rejected a further claim that the HFEA had acted out of improper purpose.

On 15 January this year, police-assisted HFEA teams conducted simultaneous, unannounced inspections of Taranissi's two London clinics - the Assisted Reproductive and Gynaecology Centre and the Reproductive Genetics Institute - investigating claims that patients had been treated without a valid license. That same evening saw the transmission of 'IVF Undercover', a special investigative report by the BBC current affairs series 'Panorama', in which undercover journalists posed as infertile women and allegedly received inappropriate advice at the same clinics. The HFEA claimed that the timing of its raid in relation to the BBC programme was coincidental, but the resulting impression of collusion with the BBC attracted widespread criticism.

The HFEA has agreed to pay most of Taranissi's court costs, which have been estimated at £1.2million - more than a tenth of the HFEA's current annual expenditure. Taranissi expressed regret that 'money, estimated to be in excess of £1m, which could have been spent on research or genuine issues of patient safety has instead ended up in the pockets of the lawyers'. The HFEA, for its part, claimed that it had 'acted in good faith and on advice'. Taranissi later told the Guardian newspaper that the episode had been demoralising: 'If I have to be a solicitor because I have to look at all these legal things, then maybe I should just call it a day because I don't want to be like this. If I'm not going to be able to do what I like to do and what I'm good at, then what's the point of continuing?'

In light of the HFEA raids being ruled unlawful, medical practitioners and commentators have called for resignations at the HFEA and for a full investigation by the Department of Health. In a separate case, Taranissi is suing the BBC for libel, on the grounds that the allegations made in 'IVF Undercover' were inaccurate and defamatory. An HFEA hearing scheduled for 13 July will consider the original allegations against Taranissi.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Ferility watchdog raids on IVF doctor 'illegal'
The Times |  29 June 2007
IVF clinic raids ruled 'unlawful'
BBC News Online |  28 June 2007
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