While advances in reproductive technology have assisted thousands of child-barren couples to start their own families, it was predictable that along with the joys of parenthood would come the frailties inherent in the emergence of surrogacy, anonymous sperm donation, in vitro fertilization, and artificial insemination.
Our courts have already grappled with the issue of children who are psychologically scarred because their biological fathers are anonymous sperm donors, a circumstance that prevents them from knowing their complete genetic and medical history, leading to a lack of personal identity and a profound sense of loss.
A British Columbia Supreme Court decision in 2011 (Pratten v. British Columbia 2011 BCSC 656) which relied on the Canadian Charter of Rights, intended to put an end to the practice of anonymous sperm donation, however, it was overturned by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in 2012, (2012 BCCA 480) who ruled that the Charter did not give a person a constitutional right to “know one’s past”.
The implantation of multiple embryos has also raised significant ethical issues as illustrated by the furor fueled by California’s Octomom, Nadya Suleman, who gave birth to healthy octuplets through in vitro fertilization, siblings to her already large family of six children.
The practice of surrogacy has also left a trail of heartbreak, whether it be parents who have been duped by surrogates, or women exploited for their ability to carry a child to term.
The most recent scandal in the baby-making business is Order of Canada recipient Dr. Bernard Norman Barwin of Ottawa, who continued to sloppily inject his patients with the wrong sperm, despite being admonished by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1995 when he failed to use his patient’s husband’s sperm to impregnate her, a fact revealed through DNA testing.
Regrettably, his promises to take steps to ensure no future errors did not protect further victims. In 2010 he was sued by Trudy Moore and Matthew Guest, when they learned their surrogate, Ms. Moore’s sister, did not receive Mr. Guest’s sperm in the 2007 insemination. As well, Jacqueline Slinn learned that her child’s father was not the sperm donor she had selected.
In both actions the plaintiffs sought orders that Dr. Barwin submit to a blood test to determine if he was the father of the children. These cases were settled out of court with the standard confidentiality provisions included.
Last week a disciplinary panel accepted Dr. Barwin’s admission that he committed the errors alleged in cases that involved five women. Dr. William King, chair of the panel, remarked:
“It is hard to imagine a more fundamental error…than failure to impregnate the right woman with the right sperm.”
Despite the seriousness of Dr. Barwin’s blunders his punishment was far from severe: a two-month suspension from the practice of medicine and costs of $3,600.00. Perhaps his remorse and explanation of the errors justified the outcome? Hardly. He could not (or would not?) explain how the mistakes were made and his so-called “apology” was far from convincing. He said “I regret I’ve caused my patients any difficulty.”
The question is: how many more of Dr. Barwin’s patients wrongly presume they know who the father of their child is?
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang