Fertility doctor's licence revoked after he used own sperm to inseminate patients

Ontario's medical regulator has revoked an Ottawa man's medical licence after determining he committed professional misconduct by using his own sperm to inseminate several patients and using the wrong sperm with several others while he was a practising fertility doctor.

More than a dozen patients say they suffered irreparable harm because of Norman Barwin's actions

Ontario's medical regulator found that Norman Barwin, seen here in 2013, used his own sperm to inseminate women while he was practising as a fertility doctor. (CBC)

Ontario's medical regulator has revoked an Ottawa man's medical licence after determining he committed professional misconduct by using his own sperm to inseminate several patients and using the wrong sperm with several others while he was a practising fertility doctor.

Bernard Norman Barwin's behaviour, which spanned decades, was called "appalling" and "beyond reprehensible" in his public reprimand.

A discipline committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has revoked Barwin's medical licence effective immediately and ordered him to pay a fine of $10,730 within 30 days. 

The committee also expressed frustration that Barwin, 80, was not present to receive the reprimand, calling it unfair that he would not face the victims of his "disgraceful" conduct. 

"It is unfortunate that at this time all we can do is revoke your licence to practise medicine and … deliver this reprimand," said Dr. Steven Bodley, chair of the panel.

"We do, however, take some solace in the fact that you are no longer in a position to cause further harm."

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The discipline committee had ruled earlier Tuesday that Barwin committed professional misconduct and failed to maintain the standards of the profession.

'No precedent'

Lawyers for the college had then asked the committee to revoke Barwin's licence, saying it was the only appropriate penalty for such a shocking abuse of trust. The college's decision to do so means other medical regulators will be alerted should he apply to practise medicine elsewhere.

An uncontested statement of facts read before the committee lays out the cases of more than a dozen patients who say they suffered irreparable harm as a result of Barwin's actions.

A lawyer for the regulator had told the discipline committee Barwin's actions traumatized entire families and left them forever altered.

"There is no precedent for the case you have before you," lawyer Carolyn Silver told the disciplinary committee. "Dr. Barwin's patients and their families were the unsuspecting victims of his incomprehensible deception."

Some patients discovered their children were half-siblings, even though they had requested the same donor be used for both, the statement of facts in the case said. Several men learned the children they had raised were not biologically theirs.

Barwin pleaded no contest to the allegations through his lawyer. 

Felt ashamed and 'contaminated'

Rebecca Dixon, who waived a publication ban protecting her identity, said she discovered three years ago that Barwin — and not the man who raised her — was her biological father.

The committee heard Dixon and her family first became suspicious of her lineage after she was diagnosed with celiac disease, a hereditary condition that neither of her parents shares. Eventually a DNA test confirmed Barwin was her father.

"In that moment, my life changed forever," she told the committee, adding she felt her entire identity was thrown into question.

The news made her feel ashamed and "contaminated," and strained her family, she said. Even now, Dixon said she continues to scan the crowds in Ottawa, looking for people who look like her and who may be her half-siblings.

Dixon also said she was glad Barwin's licence was revoked, adding the case raises questions about how the fertility industry is monitored and regulated.

A woman who can only be identified as Patient M said she learned recently that her teenage daughter was conceived using an unknown donor's sperm rather than her husband's. She has not yet broken the news to her daughter, worried the shock would be debilitating at such a "fragile" age, she said.

Patient M said Barwin went out of his way during the procedure to show her the vial of sperm with her husband's name on it, knowing it contained material from another man.

"I still felt so violated, I felt dirty, almost as if I'd been raped," she told the committee.

In a written statement submitted to the committee, a man who learned his daughter was biologically Barwin's child said he was devastated by the discovery.

Barwin was cavalier in his dealings with them, even after the truth was uncovered, claiming he didn't know what had happened but saw a family resemblance with his newly found biological daughter, the man said.

According to the statement of facts, an expert retained by the college to review Barwin's case found it was unlikely the doctor's use of his own sperm was accidental.

Barwin had previously been disciplined for artificially inseminating several women with the wrong sperm, admitting to professional misconduct when he appeared before a committee in 2013.

At the time, Barwin said errors in his practice had left three patients with children whose biological fathers were not the ones they intended.

The committee then suspended him from practising medicine for two months, but Barwin gave up his licence the following year.

On Tuesday, Barwin faced fresh allegations of incompetence, failing to maintain the standard of practice of the profession, and engaging in dishonourable or unprofessional conduct.

Now that his licence has been revoked, other medical regulators will be alerted should he apply to practise medicine elsewhere.

Barwin is also facing a proposed class-action lawsuit filed by several of his patients. The lawsuit alleges more than 50 children were conceived after their mothers were inseminated with the wrong sperm, including 11 with Barwin's.

With files from The Canadian Press