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Part of donor doctor payout earmarked for DNA database

2 August 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1106

A lawsuit over a Canadian fertility doctor who used his own sperm to impregnate patients has reached a settlement of CA$13 million.

A recent investigation by Ontario's medical regulator found that Dr Norman Barwin used sperm from the wrong donors, as well as using his own, to artificially inseminate women at his clinic in Ottowa. 

Rebecca Dixon, who was one of the first to discover Dr Barwin was her biological father, told the Ottawa Citizen: 'I am not sure we will ever achieve closure. It is something that will be with us for the rest of our lives. But the legal side wrapping up will allow people to come to a bit more peace with the situation.'

The class action currently involves 226 people – former patients and their children, 17 of whom have discovered Dr Barwin is their biological father. Many others have not yet discovered which sperm was used, after discovering their DNA did not match their mother's partner or chosen donor. 

Claimants will be given compensation based on a court-determined level of harm. The settlement also proposes CA$75,000 be used to create a DNA database for children conceived at the clinic to find out the identity of their father.

Some former patients have already found genetic relatives through commercial DNA websites. It is hoped that the DNA database will provide a private and controlled avenue to help find matches between former patients who left semen with Dr Barwin, and children who do not know the identity of their biological father, to facilitate sharing medical history, and connecting potential half-siblings. 

The settlement does not require Dr Barwin to admit fault, and he 'continues to deny all of the plaintiffs' claims in this action', according to court documents. 

Separately, an investigation by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario led to the revocation of Dr Barwin's medical licence in 2019 (see BioNews 1004). According to a statement of facts released by the college, it documented 13 cases where Dr Barwin had either used his own or unknown sperm to impregnate his patients. 

The issue of fertility doctors using their own sperm has affected patients in countries around the world, with many cases coming to light as a result of commercial DNA testing (see BioNews 1100). Recent lawsuits have also been brought in California (see BioNews 1064) and Colorado (see BioNews 1033). 

Dr Barwin is now in his 80s and has not practised since 2014. The settlement, if approved, will be paid by the Canadian Medical Protective Association, a not-for-profit mutual society that represents physicians across the country. Any further claimants have 120 days to come forward to be included in the class action.

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