dr. Norman Barwin rose to fame for decades for his work at the fertility clinic he owned in Ottawa. In 1997, he was even awarded the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian award. This Monday, a court in the province of Ontario closed a case involving Barwin, but the product of the worst ethics imaginable. Judge Calum MacLeod approved a $13.3 million Canadian dollar (about $10.7 million; about $9.2 million) rehabilitation agreement for the doctor’s victims. Baldwin has successfully inseminated 100 women with semen not selected by the parents. The doctor resorted to his own in at least 17 cases.
Rebecca Dixon and her parents were the first to sue. The Dixons made an appointment with Norman Barwin in 1989 because they were having trouble conceiving and asked him to use the father’s sperm in the treatments. Rebecca was born a year later. In 2016, a DNA test – to investigate a hereditary disease – revealed that Daniel Dixon was not his biological father. However, the young woman had the same genetic profile as Kate Palmer, a woman who was also born through fertility treatment at the Barwin Clinic. Later tests revealed that the doctor was the father of both. That same year, the Dixons decided to knock on the doors of justice. Gradually, other plaintiffs joined. The story, which was circulated in the media, alarmed countless couples who had passed through the clinic.
Last July, lawyers for the victims and Barwin reached an agreement, but the document still had to get approval from the Ontario court. In his decision, Judge MacLeod stated that the settlement is “in the best interests of everyone”. However, he emphasized the pain of the families “who endured the impact, trauma and sense of betrayal when they discovered that their genetic heritage or that of their children has been misrepresented and altered.” So far, there are 244 names on the list of people to receive compensation. More could be included soon, as the judge ruled an extra 120 days for other individuals to prove they were Barwin’s victims.
In addition to children and parents, the agreement includes some men who have stored sperm at Barwin’s clinic and who do not know if the doctor has used it for illicit inseminations. Part of the scheme concerns the establishment of a DNA bank. The law firm Nelligan Law, which represents the victims, said in a statement that, thanks to this bank, “Norman Barwin’s former patients, who entrusted him with their sperm, and the children who do not know the identity of their biological father, will determine whether there are genetic coincidences.
Barwin is 82 years old. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario revoked its professional license in 2019. The college has been criticized for being slow in making the decision. Barwin resigned from the Order of Canada in 2013 and closed his clinic a year later, after allegations of misconduct had long been heard. In 1995, two women sued him for using improper sperm, but settled out of court in 1998. Although Norman Barwin signed the Dixon-initiated and court-approved settlement, he never accepted responsibility. The money for the victims does not come from their pockets, it is paid by the Canadian Medical Protection Association.
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