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Woman in Canada begins lawsuit to find out her genetic identity

10 November 2008
Appeared in BioNews 483

A 26 year old woman in Canada conceived using donor sperm has begun legal action to attempt to make available the identities of anonymous sperm donors, including that of her own father. Olivia Pratten is acting on behalf of all those in British Columbia (BC) conceived using donor sperm or egg, who share her 'psychological distress' at not knowing her origins.

The lawsuit, against BC's attorney general and the province's College of Physicians and Surgeons, is based on the guarantee of 'equality and security of the person' included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Pratten claims that the law governing information disclosure in the case of donor-conceived children is discriminatory, unlike that for adopted children who have certain legal rights to information about their biological parents. At present, records relating to donor-conceived children can be destroyed by a doctor six years after treatment.

'The child is the one who lives with the choices that were made for them before they were born and who bears the consequences of these adult decisions', Pratten commented. When she was five, her parents received only the most basic information about her biological father when they wrote to their fertility specialist. In 2001, Pratten met the doctor herself to request more detail, but was told nothing more beyond the fact that a 'verbal medical check had been done'. Others involved in the case have similarly tried to get access to vital health information about biological parents and been told that the relevant files are destroyed.

The lawsuit was a last resort for Pratten who has described her search for information as a 'complete legislative void', and the lack of regulation and accountability 'unethical and unacceptable'. Four days after the suit was filed, the BC Supreme Court issued an injunction preventing the destruction of any records of gamete donation pending a further hearing where Ms Pratten will seek a more permanent solution.

Some commentators have held that we have an obligation not to create 'genetic orphans' deliberately, stating that this creates a 'loss of identity'. Margaret Somerville, ethicist at the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law believes that human rights specific to babies must be outlined. 'One of those human rights is to know your genetic origins', Somerville said.

Fertility doctors in Canada do worry that if donor anonymity were removed, donation rates would drop, as indeed they did in the UK when donor anonymity was removed in 2005. Waiting lists for donated gametes can be up to 2 years with some clinics suggesting patients consider buying sperm from overseas.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
B.C. court issues injunction in class-action over sperm, egg donor births
The Canadian Press |  28 October 2008
Do you know who my daddy is?
The Globe and Mail |  31 October 2008
First ever class action lawsuit filed by sperm donor offspring in Canada
Arvay Finlay Barristers press release |  28 October 2008
Suit seeks identities of sperm, egg donors
The National Post |  30 October 2008
The seed of a dilemma
Canada.com |  2 November 2008
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