A renowned Ottawa doctor who admitted to professional misconduct after three women were artificially inseminated with the wrong sperm has been suspended for errors that a disciplinary panel said left the women’s children grappling with a lifetime of “social and psychological pain.”
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario panel stripped Dr. Bernard Norman Barwin of the ability to practice medicine for two months.
“It’s hard to imagine a more fundamental error in your former specialty than to impregnate the right women with the wrong sperm,” disciplinary panel chair Dr. William King told Barwin at the Thursday hearing in Toronto.
Barwin agreed last year to stop the practice of artificial insemination after the college filed notice it would conduct a hearing after three of his patients alleged they were not impregnated with the sperm of their chosen donors. Two had intended to be inseminated with sperm from their husbands.
One of the children born as a result of the insemination errors said outside the hearing that Barwin should have had his licence revoked permanently — the maximum professional punishment available to the panel.
“I don’t know my medical history. That’s kind of scary,” said the man, now in his 20s. He and the three women and their families cannot be identified under a publication ban.
“I know I look like my mother. But who do I look like on my other half? I’ll never know.”
The fertility specialist reached a plea agreement with the medical college in which he admitted he “failed to maintain the standard of practice of the profession.”
In addition to the licence suspension, the ruling also reprimanded Barwin and ordered him to cover the $3,650 cost of the disciplinary proceedings.
Barwin, a celebrated gynecologist who received the Order of Canada in 1997, stood expressionless as the reprimand was read out.
He told the hearing he did not know how the mix-up occurred. He had been practicing artificial insemination since 1973.
“Dr. Barwin accepts that errors in his practice, which would fall below the standard of care, resulted in his failure to provide his patients with offspring from their intended biological fathers,” the agreed statement of facts said.
In a victim impact statement read by a lawyer for the medical college, one of Barwin’s patients referred to as “Patient D,” said the wrong insemination “has impacted me a lot with mixed feelings.”
“It’s like there are two stories. No. 1: Having a wonderful son in our lives. No. 2: “I feel ‘violated,'” the statement said.
“With our strong family values we are dealing with this. But it does not take away that it is always there.”
The statement of facts says “Patient D” had gone to Barwin in the mid-1980s to be inseminated with sperm from her husband, which had been frozen before he began cancer treatment. It was only in 2011 that she discovered through DNA testing that the son she had raised for more than two decades was not her husband’s child.
The document states that another woman who was inseminated by Barwin, referred to as “Patient B,” had been acting as a surrogate for her sister, who could not have a child with her husband. The family discovered in 2008 that the sperm used in the procedure was not his.
The third patient became pregnant from an insemination by Barwin in 2004. She raised her child for three years before learning the sperm used in the procedure did not come from the donor she instructed Barwin to use, the statement says.
Barwin was invested in the Order of Canada for his “profound impact on both the biological and psycho-social aspects of women’s reproductive health.”
A profile on the Governor General’s website says he has contributed greatly to the Planned Parenthood movement and the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada.
He founded the non-profit, pro-choice organization Canadians for Choice, which gives away an annual Dr. Norman Barwin Scholarship to a graduate student studying sexual health and reproductive rights.