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Canadian fertility doctor sued over sperm mix-up claims

20 September 2010
Appeared in BioNews 576

A Canadian doctor is being sued by two of his patients who discovered their children were not genetically related to the believed donors, reports the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail. Dr Bernard Barwin, a specialist in reproductive medicine with almost 30 years' experience, is being accused of negligence after two patients at the Barwin Fertility Clinic in Ottawa found their children were unrelated to their intended fathers.

Two separate legal challenges have been filed against the doctor. The first is by Ms Jacqueline Slinn, a mother who discovered in April her five-year-old daughter Bridget was not conceived using the sperm from the donor she had selected. After treatment in 2003 and again in 2004 using several vials of sperm thought to belong to a donor identified as No. 3168, Ms Slinn became pregnant and gave birth in March 2005. In 2008, however, Ms Slinn sought to join a registry that could match Bridget to other children born through the use of 3168's sperm. At this time, genetic testing revealed Bridget was unrelated to other children conceived using samples from 3168.

Testing on the sperm purchased through Dr Barwin's clinic, purchased originally from Repromed, is alleged to demonstrate contamination of sperm from another, as yet unknown, source. Ms Slinn has told the Canadian media she was unaware of any risk of such an error and, over the intervening years, she had: 'carried on merrily thinking [the father] was 3168'.

The second suit filed is by Mr Matthew Guest and Ms Trudy Moore, a couple who received fertility treatment from Dr Barwin in March 2007. Mr Guest provided sperm to be artificially inseminated using a surrogate, Ms Moore's sister. The surrogate gave birth in late December 2007, but hospital tests identified the baby, Samantha, had RH (rhesus)-positive blood while the father and surrogate were both RH-negative. A 2008 genetic test ruled out Mr Guest as the father.

Ms Moore has said in an interview her family's major concern is not knowing Samantha's medical history. 'She may never care, but if she does I can't fix that. As a parent we want the best for our children, we want to protect our children, we want to fix things for our children. This is something I will never be able to give her', she said.

Both families are being represented by Ottawa law firm Nelligan O'Brien Payne who says it is investigating whether problems are more widespread at the clinic. Ms Slinn is seeking $1.25 million in damages, while Mr Guest and Ms Moore are seeking $1.75 million from Dr Barwin.

Doctor sued over allegedly mixing up sperm samples
The Globe and Mail |  11 September 2010
Ottawa fertility clinic facing lawsuits |  10 September 2010
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