Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Court case seeks to strip sperm donors' anonymity

Olivia Pratten of Victoria was conceived by artificial insemination. She is fighting to learn the identity of her biological father.

Deddeda Stemler for The Globe and Mail/deddeda stemler The Globe and Mail

Two years after launching a court action with the hope of learning the identity of her biological father, Olivia Pratten will be in court Monday for the beginning of a trial that could have major implications for people conceived through artificial insemination - and donors involved in the process.

Ms. Pratten, 28, is seeking to have B.C.'s Adoption Act declared unconstitutional because it gives adopted children rights to obtain records of their biological parents that are not provided to people who are conceived with the help of donated eggs or sperm.

The court action also seeks to have the province introduce legislation that would require donor records to be maintained and to make those records available to people who are conceived from donated eggs or sperm.

Story continues below advertisement

For Ms. Pratten, who works as a journalist in Toronto, the case has far more than personal significance.

"This is not just about me," Ms. Pratten said Friday. "There have been a lot of people conceived this way. And I've got a lot of support from people in B.C., in Canada and from other donor conception groups in Australia and in the United Kingdom.

"It's really about having larger society recognizing that we have rights and needs. Because for as long as this practice has been going on, the child has been the last person who's been thought about."

Ms. Pratten was conceived through sperm donation and has known that fact since she was five years old. Her parents, now separated, support her legal action and her desire to learn more about her biological father. Ms. Pratten's mother, who used the services of a Vancouver fertility clinic, first sought records concerning the sperm donor who was involved in Ms. Pratten's conception in 1988.

There is no provincial regulation that requires donor records to be maintained.

The court action names the province and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia as defendants.

The province applied to have the case dismissed, arguing that records for Ms. Pratten's sperm donor father no longer exist and that the case is "moot."

Story continues below advertisement

In October, the Supreme Court of B.C. ruled the trial could go ahead.

"This is a serious matter, and the plaintiff and others are directly affected," Justice Miriam Gropper wrote in her decision. "The province has not demonstrated that there is a better avenue for Ms. Pratten and others like her to address these issues."

At the federal level, egg and sperm donations are regulated by Assisted Human Reproduction Canada under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which was introduced in 2004.

The legislation prevents donors' health records from being destroyed, but still allows donors to remain anonymous.

The government of Quebec has challenged the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, arguing it encroaches on provincial jurisdiction, in a case that has gone to the Supreme Court of Canada. The top court has yet to rule in that case.

Ms. Pratten, meanwhile, is hopeful that her court date will result in expanded rights for her and others who may want to know more about their biological heritage.

Story continues below advertisement

"When I lived in Vancouver and went to [University of British Columbia] I used to think - he could be my professor, I could pass him on the street, my mom and I could sit next to him on the bus and all three of us wouldn't know who we are," Ms. Pratten said. "It's about wanting to fill in the blank and know, this is who he was."

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.