Ottawa

Ottawa fertility doctor implanted own sperm in clients 11 times, lawsuit alleges

Norman Barwin owned Broadview Fertility Clinic, worked at Ottawa Hospital's General campus

April 05, 2018

Former Ottawa fertility doctor Norman Barwin, seen here in 2013, faces a potential class-action lawsuit over allegations he inseminated women with his own sperm. (CBC)

Nine more people whose parents went to an Ottawa fertility doctor have joined a class-action lawsuit accusing him of using his own sperm to inseminate clients, joining two other women who first made the claim in 2016.

Dr. Norman Barwin is alleged to have used his own sperm without the knowledge or consent of the people who came to him for insemination treatments, according to a statement of claim filed in the fall of 2016 by Ottawa law firm Nelligan O'Brien Payne.

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The class action, which has yet to be certified by a judge, initially claimed Barwin had inseminated two women, but has been amended to include more complainants, according to a news release from the law firm issued Thursday.

Peter Cronyn, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit also includes people who have discovered the sperm used in the conception of their child did not come from the intended father or donor.

"There's an immense breach of trust," Cronyn said. "Women that we've talked to who went to see him speak of terms like 'violation.'"

None of the allegations against Barwin, who stopped practising in 2012 and resigned from the Order of Canada in 2014, have been tested in court.

The lawsuit claims Barwin's DNA matches that of 11 people whose parents went to his fertility clinic.

About 50 other people and their parents are included in the class action, stemming from cases where individuals are not a genetic match with their father or intended anonymous sperm donor, even though Barwin isn't necessarily their biological father.

"Both parents have lost the opportunity to have the family that they've dreamed of," Cronyn said. 

The amended allegations now include Barwin's time as owner of the Broadview Fertility Clinic and his time at the Ottawa Hospital's General campus, which go as far back as the 1970s. The most recent case is from the 2000s.

Barwin's lawyer declined to comment on the latest developments. 

Half-sisters, same father

The original statement of claim included claims that two women whose parents went to the clinic had DNA that matched Barwin's.

In 1989, Davina and Daniel Dixon approached Barwin for help in conceiving a child. Their daughter Rebecca was born the following summer, but an online DNA test showed her bloodline was almost 60 per cent of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

Barwin is a well-known member of the city's Jewish community.

Dixon's DNA was then compared to that of another woman, 25-year-old Kat Palmer, who had also been conceived at the Broadview Fertility Clinic.

Rebecca Dixon claims Barwin is her biological father. She is one of the representative plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, along with her parents Davina and Daniel Dixon. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Palmer had been told by Barwin in an October 2015 email that he was her biological father, according to the statement of claim, after an ancestry website matched her DNA with one of his relatives.

When Palmer's and Dixon's DNA were compared, the test results "concluded that they were half-sisters by way of the same biological father," according to the original statement of claim.

Dixon said even though they expected more people to come forward when the lawsuit went public in November 2016, she was surprised by the response. 

"With each new revelation of an earlier birth date and more new people, it's been a shock," Dixon said. "I now have 10 siblings."

Dixon, who was raised an only child, said getting to meet her siblings has been a positive experience as they each share some understanding of their unique situation. 

"That's the bright side of what's a really difficult and emotional situation. I definitely now see the siblings I have as relationships I'll have for the rest of my life," she said.

She said the lawsuit is an important way to address the violation of trust.

"Through the class action there's the opportunity to get information and to get some kind of redress for what's happened," she said.

Kat Palmer claims Barwin is her biological father. (Kat Palmer)

The lawyers say they are still interested in hearing from people who may have been affected.

​In 2013, Barwin was suspended by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario for two months after he admitted he inseminated four women over a 21-year period with the wrong sperm.

One year later, Barwin resigned from the Order of Canada. 

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