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Ottawa fertility doctor accused of inseminating women with wrong sperm

A doctor prepares eggs and sperm for an attempt at artificial insemination.

Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

An Ottawa fertility doctor faces a disciplinary hearing Thursday over allegations he artificially inseminated three women with the wrong sperm.

Dr. Bernard Norman Barwin, a celebrated gynecologist, could lose his licence if the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario discipline panel finds he committed misconduct.

He agreed last year to stop the practice of insemination after the college filed its notice of hearing.

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The medical college alleges that three of Dr. Barwin's patients discovered their children aren't biologically related to their husband or, in one case, the patient's chosen donor.

Two women with the same allegations sued Dr. Barwin a few years ago. The lawsuits were resolved last year, but neither the women's lawyer nor Dr. Barwin's lawyer could discuss the terms.

Dr. Barwin was invested in the Order of Canada in 1997 for his "profound impact on both the biological and psycho-social aspects of women's reproductive health."

A write-up on the Governor General's website says he has contributed greatly to the Planned Parenthood movement and the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada.

He founded the non-profit, pro-choice organization Canadians for Choice, which gives away an annual Dr. Norman Barwin Scholarship to a graduate student studying sexual health and reproductive rights.

If the College of Physicians and Surgeons' disciplinary panel finds Dr. Barwin committed professional misconduct or is incompetent, it can revoke his licence, suspend it, impose certain conditions or restrictions, reprimand him, order him to pay a fine or a combination of those sanctions.

Dr. Barwin's lawyer, Karen Hamway, said she couldn't comment on the allegations in advance of Thursday's hearing.

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In the college's notice of hearing, it's alleged that "Patient A" became pregnant around June 2004 after being inseminated by Dr. Barwin, but later found out her child wasn't the product of the donor sperm she had chosen.

The college also alleges that Dr. Barwin was to inseminate "Patient C" in 2006 or 2007 with the sperm of her sister's husband, but that the resulting child was not the man's biological child.

The identities of the women aren't made public in the college's documents, but two of the circumstances described match those of two women who sued Barwin and his Broadview Fertility Clinic.

Trudy Moore and her husband Matthew Guest approached Moore's sister in 2006 to act as a surrogate for the couple, according to the family's statement of claim.

She agreed and Mr. Guest provided Dr. Barwin with two sperm samples, they alleged. The third time the sister was inseminated, the family believed it was from the remainder of Mr. Guest's first, frozen sample.

The sister discovered two weeks later that she was pregnant and in December 2007 gave birth to a girl.

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A few days later they discovered the baby's blood type was positive, they allege. Both Mr. Guest and the sister have a negative blood type.

DNA tests later ruled out both Mr. Guest and the sister's husband as the baby's biological father, according to the statement of claim.

In a statement of defence, Dr. Barwin denied any wrongdoing and said he inseminated the sister with Mr. Guest's sperm from the second sample.

Jacqueline Slinn, the second woman to sue Dr. Barwin, believed she was inseminated with sperm from donor 3168, according to her statement of claim. She became pregnant in June 2004 and gave birth to a baby girl at the Ottawa General Hospital.

Ms. Slinn joined a donor sibling registry in April 2007 and got in contact with other mothers who said they had been inseminated with donor 3168 sperm.

Ms. Slinn and two other 3168 mothers had their children tested and discovered none shared the same biological father, she alleged. Ms. Slinn arranged for more testing and found out her daughter was not a match for 3168, she alleged.

Dr. Barwin denied her allegations in a statement of defence.

As a resolution was reached, the claims were not proven in court.

The college also outlines allegations from a third woman, "Patient D," dating back to the 1980s. The woman went to Dr. Barwin to artificially inseminate her with her husband's sperm that he had frozen before cancer treatments in 1984, the college alleges.

She got pregnant after the artificial insemination, but her son wasn't her husband's biological child, it's alleged.

Dr. Barwin was born in South Africa and obtained his medical degree in 1965 from the Queen's University of Belfast.

According to a biography on the website for Canadians for Choice, Dr. Barwin is a past president of the Canadian Fertility Society, the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada and that organization's Ottawa chapter.

Reviews of Dr. Barwin on the website are largely glowing. Many patients appear to have posted comments supporting Dr. Barwin on the website in response to news of the lawsuits.

"I've been a patient of Dr.Barwin's now for about 10 yrs," one patient wrote. "Will I change doctor's now considering what he is being accused of? Absolutely not!!! He has helped me tremendously."

Another patient called him a "baby God."

"His compassion, respect, knowledge (this list goes on) does not compare to anyone or dr. I have met in my lifetime," the patient wrote. "I owe so much to this man, he never let me give up, he always wanted the best for me and he tried the hardest he could and I finally had my miracle baby I always wanted."

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