Sperm mix-up charges raise concerns about fertility clinics
The news that a doctor at an Ottawa fertility clinic has been accused of giving two of his clients sperm from different donors than the ones they chose has some health officials calling for the government to finally regulate the fertility industry,
The $1-million lawsuits launched by Ottawa residents Jacqueline Slinn and Trudy Moore against Dr. Norman Barwin, a well-known Ottawa fertility doctor, have also scared some of the women planning to have babies by artificial insemination.
Cara Strong and her husband are hoping to have a baby in the new year with the help of a fertility clinic, but the news of the lawsuits that emerged Monday has them worried.
"It's something that's scary," Cara Strong said Tuesday. "It's something you've got to think about. You also have to put a lot of hope and trust into your doctors that you're putting your care through."
Slinn and Moore accuse Barwin of mixing up and contaminating the sperm samples intended for them and say he betrayed their trust.
Slinn and Moore claim DNA tests prove the donors they had chosen are not the fathers of their children.Slinn says she discovered in April the donor she had selected was not the father of her five-year-old daughter. Moore launched her lawsuit last year.
Barwin has denied any wrongdoing and has asked the court to dismiss the charges.
None of the allegations against Barwin has been proved in court.
Barwin has almost 30 years' experience as a family physician.
In that time, he's won the Order of Canada for his work in women's reproductive health and has never faced any kind of disciplinary action.
But his clinic, like others in Canada, is not regulated and doesn't need any special licence or accreditation to perform artificial insemination.
Dr. Arthur Leader is the head of the Ottawa Fertility Centre, where each sperm sample is carefully filed by the donor's name, number and birth date to prevent mix-ups.
"We have the resources, we have the procedures, so that we only thaw one sample at a time," said Leader. "Only one sample is used at a time; only one nurse is involved with the patient."
But, he said, those kinds of precautions are voluntary.
The federal government tried to introduce national regulations for fertility doctors several years ago, but those regulations are tied up in court in a dispute about whether the federal government has jurisdiction over fertility treatment.
So, it's left up to individual clinics and practitioners to establish what they consider to be safe standards.
Leader said smaller clinics often don't have the resources to prevent contamination.