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Canadian court allows woman to seek information on sperm-donor father

25 October 2010
Appeared in BioNews 581

A Canadian woman conceived through donor insemination has been allowed to bring legal action against the province of British Columbia to obtain information about her biological heritage, which may include the identity of the sperm donor involved in her conception.

Olivia Pratten argues British Columbia has failed to protect her right to know the identity of her biological father and that she is entitled to information regarding her conception, which is important to her psychological well-being. She claims British Columbia failed to legislate to ensure donor records are preserved and says there is an inequality under the law in a person's right to know their biological heritage between donor conception and adoption.

Even if records regarding her own conception no longer exist, the court felt satisfied a declaration may resolve controversy surrounding the rights of donor-conceived individuals. In permitting the case to proceed to trial, the Honourable Madam Justice Gropper sitting in the Supreme Court of British Columbia said: 'This is a serious matter, and the plaintiff and others are directly affected'. She added: 'She has satisfied me that there is a serious issue to be tried; that her position that the province has failed to enact protective legislation in respect of gamete donors is one which affects Ms Pratten directly or she has a genuine interest in protecting'.

Federal legislation prevents a donor's health records from being destroyed but the provisions are not yet in force. There is no provincial regulation in British Columbia on how donor information should be treated and the provisions of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act 2004 will not extend to record keeping at the time Ms Pratten was conceived. The Act allows donors to remain anonymous and it is unclear what impact a ruling in Ms Pratten's favour would have on this position.

The Act itself is currently in contention with the Quebec government challenging it for encroaching upon the jurisdiction of the provinces. British Columbia had argued that Ms Pratten's claim should be adjourned until Canada's Supreme Court decides on the matter, but this was rejected by Justice Gropper.

Ms Pratten was conceived in 1981 through donor insemination using sperm obtained from an anonymous donor. She filed an action against British Columbia and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia in October 2008 and obtained a temporary injunction in December 2008 preventing the destruction or removal of the records. Her attempts at obtaining information about her conception have to date failed with the gynaecologist involved in the original procedure maintaining that the records may no longer exist.


'It's about wanting to fill in the blank and know, this is who [the sperm donor] was', said Ms Pratten. The trial is set for 25 October 2010.

B.C. judge clears the way for sperm donor exposure lawsuit
The Vancouver Sun |  15 October 2010
Court case seeks to strip sperm donors’ anonymity
The Globe and Mail |  25 October 2010
Trial to identify sperm donor can proceed
National Post |  16 October 2010
22 October 2012 - by Maria Sheppard 
A man in Queensland, Australia, who acted as a known sperm donor for a woman in what appeared to be a private arrangement, has been awarded shared parental responsibility over a girl he fathered...
11 July 2011 - by Vince Londini 
In December, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) struck down most of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (AHRA) of 2004. This ruling invalidated almost all Canadian federal regulations covering the many sticky areas of emerging Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) practice...
11 July 2011 - by Professor Eric Blyth 
It is not so long since I applauded the decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia (BC) for promoting the disclosure of the identity of gamete and embryo donors to their offspring [1]. News that the BC Attorney-General is appealing the judgment to the federal Supreme Court indicates that my enthusiasm was a case of premature elation [2]. The good news for those of us who believe that non-anonymous donation is the only ethical form of gamete and embryo donation is that if the federal Su...
6 June 2011 - by Nisha Satkunarajah 
A man who froze his sperm at a fertility clinic over ten years ago has spoken of his distress after finding out his ex-wife had tricked the clinic into using the sperm, resulting in the birth of two children. He was then ordered by a court to pay 100,000 towards their upbringing...
23 May 2011 - by Sarah Pritchard 
Anonymous egg and sperm donation will no longer be permitted in British Columbia (BC), Canada, after a donor-conceived woman, Olivia Pratten, took the provincial government to court to argue that its adoption laws discriminated against individuals such as herself....
17 May 2010 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Canada's fertility licensing and regulatory body, Assisted Human Reproduction Canada (AHRC), has come under fire from lawyers and doctors who are finding the country's fertility laws vague and uncertain, the National Post newspaper reports...
10 November 2008 - by Sarah Pritchard 
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...
22 October 2005 - by BioNews 
Professor Eric Blyth, speaking at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) conference in Montreal this week, presented an analysis of a UK Department of Health survey of sperm and egg donors, which shows that loss of donor anonymity could potentially halve the number of people donating. In April, a...
3 October 2005 - by Dr Mavis Jones 
The current public consultation on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act, according to the government's official statement, is intended 'to ensure that the law remains effective and fit for purpose in the early 21st century'. The HFE Act has managed to maintain political authority over its 15 year tenure...
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