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Sperm donor anonymity: Canadian Supreme Court will not hear woman's appeal

3 June 2013
Appeared in BioNews 707

The Supreme Court of Canada has declined to hear a case brought by a woman conceived by IVF using donated sperm that would have ended donor anonymity in the province. The decision is likely to be the end of a lawsuit that was commenced five years ago.

Olivia Pratten was conceived in 1982 by artificial insemination using sperm donated anonymously. She filed an action in 2008 (see BioNews 483 and 581) to challenge the law on donor anonymity and record-keeping in British Columbia (BC) and to assert the right, as she maintained, to know her biological origins.

Pratten argued that BC laws on adoption that allowed adoptees to access details about their biological parents discriminated against donor-conceived people and was, as such, contrary to the Canadian Charter on Rights and Freedoms (the Charter). She also said that failing to legislate to allow donor-conceived people to obtain information about their biological origins violated what she claimed was a free-standing right under the Charter.

The lawsuit was initially successful in the lower courts. The Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled mostly in her favour in May 2011, considering anonymous sperm donation as 'harmful' to the child (see BioNews 608). It declared parts of BC's adoption laws as unconstitutional and ordered that gamete donor records could not be destroyed.

The BC Government appealed and the Court of Appeal for British Columbia ruled in its favour in November 2012, overturning the earlier decision (see BioNews 645 and 684). It said that donor-conceived people have no legal right to know their biological origins and that a ruling to change this may infringe other peoples' rights to privacy. Pratten then made an application to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in January 2013.

The Supreme Court of Canada, whose decision is final save for exceptional circumstances, dismissed the application on 30 May 2013. It is not expected to provide reasons.

Although it was not possible for Pratten to obtain details about the donor used in her own conception as records regarding the treatment were destroyed, she explained that she wanted to pursue the case to challenge the law for donor-conceived people.

'This is an area that has no legislation on it, and there's more people who are conceived this way', Pratten explained. 'Women are delaying their fertility, more people are using egg donors and surrogates. More and more people are like me. The issue is not going away'.

Speaking after the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, Pratten said: 'My files were destroyed, and that was legally allowed - the fact that that's fine is not OK, it's a step in the wrong direction'.

'I never wanted anyone to be in my situation again, and unfortunately, as a result of this ruling, there will be more people in my situation'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Olivia Pratten v. Attorney General of British Columbia, College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia (35191)
Judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada |  27 May 2013
Supreme Court rejects sperm donor identity case
CTV News |  30 May 2013
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