The miracle of life is always a blessing. This is especially true when a couple who've struggled with conceiving finally learn they're expecting a bundle of joy.
Sometimes hopeful mothers and fathers will seek the help of fertility doctors to aid them on their quest to parenthood. While medical practitioners take an oath to do no harm to their patients, they tragically don't always stay true to their word.
This is the case for a Canadian fertility doctor who is being sued for using his sperm to impregnate dozens of his patients.
Dr. Norman Barwin from Ottawa, Ontario has been named in a class-action lawsuit for fathering a class-action lawsuit with about 50 children of previous clients whose DNA fails to be a match for their intended biological father.
Dating back to the 1970s
Barwin's grave misdeeds are alleged to date back to the 1970s while employed at the Broadview Fertility Clinic and Ottawa Hospital. The suit filed by law firm Nelligan O'Brien Payne in the fall of 2016, stated the disgraced doctor "used his own sperm without the knowledge or consent of the people who came to him for insemination treatments."
"There's an immense breach of trust," Peter Cronyn, one of the lawyers working on the case said. "Women that we've talked to who went to see him speak of terms like 'violation.'"
While the lawsuit has yet to be certified by a judge, it includes 11 offspring whose parents sought Barwin's help with either impregnating the mother with the sperm of their spouse or intended anonymous sperm donor. The suit also names 50 other parents who weren't given the correct sperm, even if the doctor isn't their biological father.
"Both parents have lost the opportunity to have the family that they've dreamed of," Cronyn said.
In 1990, Davina and Daniel Dixon were filled with joy when they welcomed their daughter Rebecca into the world, believing they owed their gratitude to Barwin.
However, it wouldn't be long for the couple to suspect something was amiss.
"[Davina] was concerned because she and Daniel have blue eyes and Rebecca has brown eyes," the statement of claim said.
When Rebecca took an online DNA test, Davina and Daniel found out their daughter had close to 60% of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage in her bloodline. Barwin has been a longstanding member in Ottawa's Jewish community.
Rebecca said while it's been a devastating shock to discover the man who raised her isn't her biological father, she's even more surprised to learn she now has several siblings.
"With each new revelation of an earlier birth date and more new people, it's been a shock," she said. "I now have 10 siblings."
However, Rebecca, who raised as an only child, said while she sees a silver lining to this gross error, as she has newfound siblings who share "some understanding of their unique situation."
"That's the bright side of what's a really difficult and emotional situation. I definitely now see the siblings I have as relationships I'll have for the rest of my life," she said.
But, despite Rebecca's positive experience with meeting her brothers and sisters, she said it's important she and her siblings pursue the unprecedented class-action lawsuit as it highlights the enormous violation of trust.
"Through the class action there's the opportunity to get information and to get some kind of redress for what's happened," she said.
Kat Palmer is another young woman who grew up to believe she was an only child, until she received an email from Barwin. According to the statement of claim, Barwin admitted he was her biological father after she matched with one of the doctor's relatives on an DNA testing website.
When asked about her newfound siblings, Palmer said she had a lot to keep track of.
"So, my oldest brother that I know about is a lawyer. And then James is a welder. Rebecca works for Parliament. One of my sisters has a good old government job in Ottawa," Palmer said in an interview with W5. "Who else am I forgetting? One of my siblings makes documentaries. Uh. There’s so many."
A lesbian couple from Toronto are also outraged with Barwin's malpractice after a DNA test confirmed their daughter was not conceived with the anonymous sperm donor they had carefully chosen.
"I feel cheated and I feel like my wife was assaulted because there really was no consent there," said the woman whose partner gave birth to their daughter in 2005.
The couple, who wish to remain anonymous to protect the identity of their 13-year-old daughter, said while Barwin isn't the biological father of their oldest child, they don't know who is.
The woman said she's afraid of the ramifications that will come with the unsettling news, as DNA testing could confirm the identity of their daughter's biological father, who may seek contact with their daughter.
"I'm scared for my family that we've kind of opened this door — you can't un-know what you know," the woman said.
Barwin's troubles date back to as early as 1995 when his practice was sued for using the wrong sperm sample, and again in 2009 and 2010.
Previously known as the "Baby God" for his ability to help several couples start a family of their own, Barwin was sanctioned in 2013 for artificially inseminating three patients with the wrong sperm and gave up his license the following year. He is also no longer a member of the Order of Canada, an award he was given in 1997.
While the allegations have yet to be proven in what will undeniably be a lengthy court battle, he isn't the only fertility doctor who has recently come under fire.
Another unfortunate tale
A Washington woman is furious after she discovered the fertility doctor who helped her parents conceive is in fact her biological father.
Kelli Rowlette, 36, claims Dr. Gerald Mortimer used his own sperm to impregnate her mother Sally Ashby instead of her former husband, Harold Fowler.
"Since discovering Dr. Mortimer’s actions, Ms. Ashby, Mr. Fowler, and Mrs. Rowlette have been suffering immeasurably,” the suit states. “Had Mr. Fowler and Ms. Ashby known Dr. Mortimer was going to inseminate Ms. Ashby with his own genetic material, they would not have agreed to the procedure."
Ashby and Fowler met Mortimer in 1979 to discuss their fertility issues, where he suggested they undergo artificial insemination, with 85% of Fowler's sperm would be used for the mixture, and the rest coming from an anonymous sperm donor.
The former couple agreed, as long as the donor was of college age, over six feet tall and resembled Fowler, which was criteria not met by Mortimer.
A few years after Ashby and Fowler naturally conceived their son, they decided to relocate from Idaho Springs to Washington, which left Mortimer devastated.
"Dr. Mortimer cried when Ms. Ashby informed him they were moving," the suit also states. "Dr. Mortimer knew Kelli Rowlette was his biological daughter but did not disclose this to Ms. Ashby or Mr. Fowler."
The truth comes out
The truth came out last year after Rowlette submitted a DNA sample to Ancestry.com and discovered Mortimer was her biological father. Originally believing it was a mistake, she told her parents who were devastated by the news.
"Mrs. Rowlette was horrified and contacted Ms. Ashby and Mr. Fowler in a panic to relay what she had found," the lawsuit states. "Since discovering Dr. Mortimer’s actions, Ms. Ashby, Mr. Fowler, and Mrs. Rowlette have been suffering immeasurably."
Since the discovery, Rowlette has since filed a lawsuit against Mortimer, his wife Linda, and the Gynecology Associates of Idaho Falls with the U.S. District Court in Idaho for medical negligence, fraud, battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract.
Have you ever heard a case like these before?