Ex-fertility doctor alleged to have used his sperm to inseminate women faces disciplinary hearing

A former Ottawa fertility doctor alleged to have used his own sperm to inseminate patients will appear before a disciplinary hearing in Toronto today.

In a notice of hearing on its website, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario alleges Norman Barwin is incompetent and committed an act of professional misconduct “that would be regarded by members as disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional.”

Specifically, Barwin is alleged to have used his own sperm without the knowledge or consent of the people who came to him for insemination treatments, as well as incorrect sperm that wasn’t his.

He is also alleged to have responded improperly to the college while it was investigating his practice.

Barwin admitted to committing professional misconduct when he appeared before the Ontario college’s disciplinary committee in 2013, saying errors in his practice had left three patients with children whose biological fathers were not the ones they intended.

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

Carolyn Silver, general counsel for the college, said Barwin is expected to plead no contest, “meaning he will not contest the allegations that have been referred to the discipline committee and the college will proceed to read out the facts alleged against him.”

Barwin already gave up his medical licence, but the college could revoke it if he is found guilty on these additional grounds. That would alert other medical regulators should he apply to practise medicine elsewhere.

He could also be ordered to pay a fine of up to $35,000, or be given an order to reimburse the college for costs.

If Barwin pleads no contest and the committee finds he’s incompetent and engaged in professional misconduct, victim impact statements are expected to be heard at Tuesday’s hearing, Silver said.

‘Lives have been changed forever’

Rebecca Dixon, who said she learned when she was 25 years old that Barwin was her biological father, is among the individuals expected to read a statement.

“It was important for me to be there to remind everybody that there is a real human impact to what he’s done,” said Dixon, now 29.

“It’s resulted in real people, real people whose lives have been changed forever because of his actions.”

Dixon’s parents approached Barwin for help to conceive in 1989.

According to the family, she was born the following summer, but an online DNA test later showed her bloodline was almost 60 per cent Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

Barwin is a well-known member of Ottawa’s Jewish community.

Dixon’s DNA was then compared to the DNA of another 25-year-old woman, also conceived at the Broadview Fertility Clinic, who had been told by Barwin in an October 2015 email that he was her biological father.

Dixon said it has been an emotionally challenging journey, but it’s important for her to have the chance to speak at the hearing.

“This is not acceptable, and I’m hoping that it will further encourage a conversation and reflection on the fertility industry, and its regulation and monitoring in the province and across Canada,” she said.

“It’s obviously changed my whole understanding of my own identity.”

Dixon is one of the 11 representative plaintiffs in a proposed class-action lawsuit accusing Barwin of using his own sperm to inseminate clients.

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

Cronyn said they are still working toward getting the class action certified and a potential resolution. So far, none of the allegations has been tested in court.

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