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Canadian doctor loses licence for using own sperm in IVF

1 July 2019
Appeared in BioNews 1004

A Canadian fertility specialist, Dr Norman Barwin, has lost his medical licence for using the wrong sperm, including his own, to inseminate a number of IVF patients. 

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario revoked Dr Barwin's licence and ordered him to pay costs following an investigation that showed evidence of twelve cases of fertility treatment where he had used the wrong sperm. Patients were never informed of the error and in most cases accidentally discovered the information themselves leading to serious repercussions for the families involved.

Carolyn Silver, acting as prosecutor for the college, called Dr Barwin's actions an 'inexcusable deception', stating that his 'shocking actions will leave an indelible stain on the profession'.

Dr Barwin was originally suspended for two months in 2013 after admitting using the wrong sperm in three fertility treatment cases, going on to give up his licence altogether the following year. However, in 2016, following further allegations dating back as far as 1978 from two different clinics in Ontario, the college reopened its investigation.

During the recent disciplinary hearing, the regulatory panel was presented with impact statements from four cases. Rebecca Dixon, who waived a publication ban protecting her identity, said that she had discovered three years ago that Dr Barwin was her biological father, having become suspicious following a diagnosis of celiac disease, a hereditary condition shared by neither of her parents.

When a DNA test showed that Dr Barwin was her father she said 'in that moment, my life changed forever' and felt her entire identity was thrown into question. It made her feel both ashamed and 'contaminated', placing strain on her family. Dixon subsequently discovered that because of Dr Barwin's actions she had 15 half-siblings.

One child of Dr Barwin's fertility treatment similarly discovered that Dr Barwin is her biological father, via online DNA registry and DNA testing. Another patient 'felt violated - dirty - almost as if I had been raped' when she discovered that an unknown donor's sperm, and not her husband's, had been used to inseminate her, according to the Canadian Press.

Absent from the disciplinary hearing in Toronto, Dr Barwin's lawyer pleaded no contest as he was charged with incompetence, failing to maintain the standard practice of the profession and engaging in dishonourable or unprofessional conduct.

'There is no precedent for the case you have before you,' Silver told the disciplinary committee. 'Dr Barwin's patients and their families were the unsuspecting victims of his incomprehensible deception…it is the most egregious violation of a patient's trust. These patients came to Dr Barwin and trusted him to help them start a family,' she said.

Dr Barwin is also facing a class action lawsuit filed by several of his patients. The lawsuit alleges that more than 50 children were conceived after their mothers were inseminated with the wrong sperm, including 11 allegedly using Dr Barwin's sperm.

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