Settlement against the disgraced Ottawa fertility doctor gets court approval

A total of 244 former patients and their children, including 17 children conceived using his own sperm, are among the plaintiffs in the case who have attracted global attention.

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A judge in the Ontario Superior Court has approved a $ 13.375 million settlement against a disgraced fertility doctor from Ottawa that lays the groundwork for hundreds of his victims to receive compensation and potentially learn more about their genetic makeup.

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A total of 244 former patients and their children, including 17 children conceived using Dr. Norman Barwin’s own sperm cells are among the plaintiffs in the case that have attracted global attention. It is the first trial of its kind in the world.

Rebecca Dixon, 31, started the case with her parents, Davina and Daniel, in 2016. The Dixon family went to Barwin in 1989 for help conceiving a child. Until 2016, all three believed she was both of her parents ’biological child. But in 2016, through DNA testing, they found out that Barwin was her biological father.

She is one of 17 participants in the class action lawsuit, who through DNA tests have learned that they are the 82-year-old doctor’s biological children.

Dixon has said the discovery turned her world and her parents’ world upside down. She said the experience led to a “feeling of disassociation with my own face and to feeling really disoriented by the fact that my own identity – things that were just me – now had this connection to someone else”.

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Rebecca Dixon called for the approval of the settlement
Rebecca Dixon called the approval of the settlement “a good step toward the closure we are trying to find.” Photo by Julie Oliver /Postmedia

Dixon and some of her half-siblings have become close and form a sense of family through their shared experience.

On Monday, she called the approval of the settlement “a good step towards the closure we are trying to find.”

Barwin’s actions have been called “beyond reprehensible” by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, the regulatory body of doctors in Ontario. But he has never admitted wrongdoing and continues to deny allegations in the case. The settlement was negotiated.

Regional Senior Judge Calum MacLeod of the Ontario Superior Court approved the settlement, which was not opposed.

Peter Cronyn, one of three lawyers from Nelligan Law who represented the plaintiffs, said 17 new plaintiffs have emerged since the class action lawsuit was upheld in July.

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The plaintiffs include 100 children who were conceived when their parents sought fertility help at Barwin. Most of these children do not know who their fathers are. Other plaintiffs include men who kept semen in the clinics run by Barwin and who do not know if they were used to conceive children.

Part of the settlement includes the establishment of a private DNA bank for former patients of Barwin. It will allow former patients who have trusted semen with Barwin and the children who do not know the identity of their biological father to determine if there are any matches. The DNA database will be coordinated by Orchid Pro DNA Laboratories.

“We felt that Dr. Barwin’s former patients needed to know about the inconsistencies in his practice. We also needed to give them a method to determine if their children’s genetic makeup was what they intended. And if it was not so to give them funds, ”Cronyn said.

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Under the settlement, former patients and children will be entitled to up to $ 50,000 depending on the injury to the individual.

Barwin’s fall from a once highly respected “baby whisperer,” which was awarded the Canada Order, has been going on for decades. Cases in which children of his patients were conceived using his own semen or the wrong semen date back to 1973. In 2019, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons revoked his permit, fined him $ 10,000 and reprimanded him for saying , that his actions would leave a stain on the profession and families “will endure the consequences of his abominable actions indefinitely.”

The Disciplinary Board has been criticized for not revoking his license decades earlier when the first complaints were made.

The approval of the settlement starts the claim period, which will run for an additional 120 days, during which time potential plaintiffs can file claims to determine if they are eligible.

The settlement will be paid for by the Canadian Medical Protective Association, a not-for-profit mutual association representing physicians across the country.

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