Hundreds of victims of a disgraced Canadian fertility doctor, including more than a dozen children conceived using his sperm, are set to share a proposed C$13.375m (£7.707m) class-action settlement – the first of its kind in the world.
On Wednesday, an Ontario court certified a class action suit against Ottawa-based Norman Barwin. The legal action was first launched in 2016.
For decades, Barwin was a highly sought after fertility doctor – dubbed “Baby God” for his success rate – and was even awarded the Order of Canada.
But nearly four decades ago, couples began to question his methodology.
In 1989, Davina and David Dixon sought Barwin’s help to conceive. They grew suspicious after their daughter, Rebecca, did not resemble her parents. When she developed celiac disease – in spite of nobody else in the family suffering from the illness – her parents approached Barwin for a DNA sample.
The doctor refused to comply, but the Dixons were able to compare Rebecca’s DNA with that of another of Barwin’s patients – and found a match. At 25, she learned that Barwin was her biological father.
“I was in shock. Something inside me shifted. It made me feel like my existence was something to be ashamed of,” Dixon told the Ottawa Citizen in 2019.
Barwin is alleged to have told couples that the male partner’s sperm would be used. Instead, they were unknowingly given random samples, and in some cases Barwin’s own sperm.
Barwin did not notify his patients of the errors, leaving them to discover years later the truth about their children’s paternity.
Under the proposed settlement, former patients and children will be eligible for up to C$50,000 (£29,000) in damages. A judge must approve the settlement before any money is made available.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario suspended Barwin in 2013 after he admitted to inseminating four women using the wrong sperm. He resigned his medical licence in 2014.
In 2019, Barwin was deemed incompetent by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which described the former doctor’s behaviour as “beyond reprehensible” and said the damage he caused will last for generations.
“It is the most egregious violation of a patient’s trust. These patients came to Dr Barwin and trusted him to help them start a family,” said Carolyn Silver, the college’s senior counsel. The college ordered him to pay costs of C$10,370.
The civil lawsuit also calls for a DNA database to be set up to help children identify their father or discover any siblings. It will also help men who stored sperm with Barwin determine if it had been used without their permission.