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The Globe and Mail

Sperm-donor offspring wants province to open records

Olivia Pratten, who was conceived through artificial insemination is seeking the right to learn the identity of her biological father in Victoria, BC, October 24, 2010.

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

Olivia Pratten doesn't know the man who donated his sperm to make her conception possible, and she isn't sure she wants to meet him.

But the woman wants a Vancouver court to lead the way in giving her and other donor offspring across Canada the option of knowing their biological fathers if that's what they choose.

"We never signed a contract, we never agreed to this and we grow up and we go, 'Wait a minute, this isn't what I wanted,' " Ms. Pratten said Monday outside B.C. Supreme Court.

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The 28-year-old, born in Nanaimo, B.C., and now a journalist with The Canadian Press in Toronto, has launched a lawsuit because donor records aren't currently made available to children born through artificial insemination. Often, they are destroyed.

Joseph Arvay, Ms. Pratten's lawyer, contends that B.C.'s Adoption Act should be tossed out for new legislation obligating doctors to maintain records and give them to the children if requested. The move would effectively eliminate anonymity.

Mr. Arvay told court adopted children have the right to know who their biological parents are, but children conceived by sperm or egg donations don't. Yet he said both groups of children are equally deserving of information such as medical history or cultural and religious identity.

"Fundamentally, those needs are no different from the needs of adopted people," he said, adding that barring donor children from it amounts to discrimination.

In 1996, B.C. recognized that withholding information would be detrimental to an adopted child's best interests and amended how records are kept and how they can be retrieved. Mr. Arvay told court he's seeking parity for his client.

As for past donors' rights, Ms. Pratten said she'll let the courts decide.

"If you don't want to be identified at a later date, don't be a donor, nobody's making you do it," she said.

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B.C. and the College of Physicians and Surgeons are defendants in the suit, which comes after a judge rejected a bid by the province to block it earlier this month.

The judge in that case ruled Ms. Pratten has public interest standing and possibly even direct standing, depending on the state of her own biological father's records.

Court heard that after Ms. Pratten's mother learned her husband was infertile from complications of bladder surgery, a Vancouver doctor used artificial insemination to impregnate her.

The doctor said he would find a donor that resembled her husband, and suggested she never tell her child.

When Shirley Pratten realized it was no small concealment, she returned to the doctor seeking further information about the donor. The doctor refused to hand it over, and later he said it had been destroyed after the requisite six years.

It's never been determined whether that's true.

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At age 19, the only information Ms. Pratten could retrieve about her father was that he was Caucasian, a medical student, had a sturdy build, brown hair, blue eyes and type A blood.

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