|Dr. James Martin|
An Ontario fertility specialist has been charged with professional misconduct in his treatment of 30 women desperate to have children, a rare prosecution of a doctor in Canada’s burgeoning assisted-reproduction industry.
The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons has yet to release specifics of the charges laid this week against Dr. James Martin, saying only that he is accused of unprofessional conduct, incompetence and failing to maintain the standard of practice in the care of 30 patients starting in 2001, shortly after his private clinic opened.
One of the women, though, has alleged that Dr. Martin administered repeated, back-to-back treatments and powerful ovary-stimulating drugs, and that she ended up dangerously ill and undergoing emergency surgery. Dr. Martin was not available for comment, but has said he provided appropriate care to Colleen Aitken, and had warned her against undergoing too many continuous treatments without interruption.
Ms. Aitken’s husband, Roland Guignard, said Tuesday the couple is thrilled to see the discipline case move ahead, but is “floored” by the number of other patients involved.
“I was extremely surprised there were 30. I was not aware of the magnitude of it,” he said. “We’re definitely ecstatic that … he’s going to be held accountable.”
Mr. Guignard said fertility patients, whose numbers across Canada have ballooned by 50% in the last six years, are particularly vulnerable. “People are in a very desperate mode, and they need someone to make sure the integrity and the standards are being met.”
In an unusual twist, Dr. Martin’s wife, Dr. Cathy Frank, who is listed as a consultant on his clinic’s staff, is also under investigation by the college, which imposed strict limits on her licence in 2011.
A spokesman for Southern Ontario Fertility Technologies (SOFT) said Dr. Martin was away and not available to comment on his disciplinary action. Brad Ferris, the operation’s business manager, also said it was “puzzling” the National Post was even interested in the case.
“I don’t know if you’re being used for someone’s personal interests,” he said. “I have reached out [to the media] in the past about good news stories. It seems the only interest of the media is when an allegation is made.”
No date has been set for Dr. Martin’s disciplinary hearing, which could result in penalties ranging from a reprimand to revocation of his licence if he is found guilty.
The physician started practising medicine in the late 1970s, later obtaining his obstetrics and gynecology speciality, and a sub-specialty in reproductive endocrinolgy, the field that has expanded rapidly over the last two decades to serve Canadians who need help to have children.
Dr. Martin worked at the London Health Sciences Centre fertility clinic and as an assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario, before opening his own private clinic in October 2000, his web site says. SOFT has since helped bring about more than 4,000 pregnancies.
Ms. Aitken alleged in her complaint that she was subjected to an inordinate number of treatments using potent drugs over six years in the mid-2000s, which she said led to emergency surgery to stanch internal bleeding and remove inflamed ovaries. A pathologist’s report blamed the damage on the medication she had received.
The ordeal has left her unable to conceive, on hormone-replacement therapy and in constant pain, Ms. Aitken, a former public-health nurse, told the Post a year ago.
Dr. Martin cautioned the Post at the time, however, to be careful with his patient’s version of events. “This person had two babies, obviously her treatment was successful,” he said. “I really don’t have any evidence as a doctor that her ovaries were damaged.”
He has also indicated that he had warned her more than once not to undergo repeated treatments over a relatively short period of time.
The college’s restrictions against Dr. Martin’s wife came to light in 2011 as two of her patients at a hospital in St. Thomas, Ont., alleged in lawsuits that they suffered serious complications from surgeries the obstetrician/gynecologist had performed. The regulator has ordered her not to perform unsupervised obstetrical-gynecological operations, ask for surgical privileges at any hospital or act as the primary physician for any ob/gyn patient.
Another 56 malpractice suits have been filed against the physician in the last year, alleging negligence in surgeries, deliveries and pregnancy care, said Joni Dobson, a London lawyer handling the cases. Statements of defence filed so far have denied the charges, and none of the allegations has been proven in court.
Meanwhile, the lawyer said she was in court this week appealing a decision of the college to order that Dr. Frank only be verbally cautioned in response to the first four complaints filed to the regulatory agency, rather than lay formal disciplinary charges.
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