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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'.

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
6 July 2015 - by Rebecca Carr 
The Australian state of Victoria has revealed plans to extend rules removing donor anonymity to allow all donor-conceived people access to identifying information about their sperm or egg donor, irrespective of the donor's consent or when they donated...
12 August 2013 - by Jessica Ware 
After a German court ruled that a 22-year-old woman conceived via sperm donation could know the identity of her biological father, radio station 1Live caught up with her and took a look into the world of assisted conception in Germany...
14 January 2013 - by Dr Juliet Guichon and Dr Vardit Ravitsky 
People conceived by donor gametes in Canada do not have a right to access their progenitors' medical records or identities. To change this reality, Olivia Pratten brought litigation in October 2008 against the government of British Columbia, where she was donor-conceived about 30 years ago...
3 December 2012 - by Ruth Retassie 
A British Columbia court has ruled that donor-conceived people do not have a constitutional right to know their biological origins and has reversed an earlier decision that would have effectively removed donor anonymity in the province....
20 February 2012 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
Lawyers representing British Columbia's government were at the Canadian province's Court of Appeal last Tuesday attempting to overturn an earlier ruling which would effectively end anonymous gamete donation...
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....
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