TORONTO — An Ottawa fertility doctor who used his own sperm as well as that of the wrong donors to artificially inseminate several women caused "irreparable damage" that will span generations, a disciplinary panel with Ontario's medical regulator said Tuesday as it revoked his medical licence.
Dr. Bernard Norman Barwin betrayed the trust of patients who turned to him for help in starting a family, the discipline committee for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario said.
The committee also expressed frustration that Barwin, 80, was not present to receive the reprimand, calling it unfair that he would not face the victims of his "disgraceful" conduct.
"It is unfortunate that at this time all we can do is revoke your licence to practise medicine and ... deliver this reprimand," said Dr. Steven Bodley, chair of the panel. "We do, however, take some solace in the fact that you are no longer in a position to cause further harm."
The discipline committee had ruled earlier Tuesday that Barwin committed professional misconduct and failed to maintain the standards of the profession.
Lawyers for the college had then asked the committee to revoke Barwin's licence, saying it was the only appropriate penalty for such a shocking abuse of trust. The college's decision to do so means other medical regulators will be alerted should he apply to practise medicine elsewhere.
An uncontested statement of facts laid out the cases of more than a dozen patients who said they suffered irreparable harm as a result of Barwin's actions, starting in the 1970s through the early 2000s.
Barwin pleaded no contest to the allegations through his lawyer.
A lawyer for the college said Barwin's actions traumatized entire families.
"There is no precedent for the case you have before you," Carolyn Silver told the disciplinary committee. "Dr. Barwin's patients and their families were the unsuspecting victims of his incomprehensible deception."
Some patients discovered their children were half-siblings, even though they had requested the same donor be used for both, the statement of facts said. Several men learned the children they had raised were not biologically theirs.
Rebecca Dixon, who waived a publication ban protecting her identity, said she discovered three years ago that Barwin — and not the man who raised her — was her biological father.
The committee heard Dixon and her family first became suspicious of her lineage after she was diagnosed with celiac disease, a hereditary condition that neither of her parents shares. Eventually a DNA test confirmed Barwin was her father.
"In that moment, my life changed forever," she told the committee, adding she felt her entire identity was thrown into question.
The news made her feel ashamed and "contaminated," and strained her family, she said.
Even now, Dixon said she continues to scan the crowds in Ottawa, looking for people who look like her and who may be her half-siblings. So far, Dixon said she has identified 15 half-siblings, though the case before the college involves only seven patients with children fathered by Barwin.
She said after the hearing that more victims may yet emerge as others discover their parentage or that of their children is not what they believed.
Dixon also said she was glad that Barwin's licence was revoked, adding the case raises questions about how the fertility industry is monitored and regulated.
A woman who can only be identified as Patient M told the committee she learned recently that her teenage daughter was conceived using an unknown donor's sperm rather than her husband's. She has not yet broken the news to her daughter, worried the shock would be debilitating, she said.
Patient M said Barwin went out of his way during the procedure to show her the vial of sperm with her husband's name on it, knowing it contained material from another man.
"I still felt so violated, I felt dirty, almost as if I'd been raped," she said.
In a written statement submitted to the committee, a man who learned his daughter was biologically Barwin's child said he was devastated by the discovery.
Barwin was cavalier in his dealings with them, even after the truth was uncovered, claiming he didn't know what had happened but saw a family resemblance with his newly found biological daughter, the man said.
According to the statement of facts, an expert retained by the college to review Barwin's case found it unlikely the doctor's use of his own sperm was accidental. Barwin's explanation that contamination must have occurred when he used his own sperm to calibrate a sperm counter is neither plausible nor believable, Dr. Edward Hughes said.
Barwin had previously been disciplined for artificially inseminating several women with the wrong sperm, admitting to professional misconduct when he appeared before committee in 2013. At the time, Barwin said errors in his practice had left a few patients with children whose biological fathers were not the ones they intended.
The committee then suspended him from practising medicine for two months, but Barwin gave up his licence the following year.
There was no evidence in that case that Barwin was the biological father of any of his patients' children, said Silver, the college's lawyer. Barwin intentionally concealed what he was doing, she said.
Tuesday's hearing dealt with fresh allegations against Barwin of incompetence, failing to maintain the standard of practice of the profession and of engaging in dishonourable or unprofessional conduct.
As part of his penalty, Barwin will have to pay the college more than $10,000.
He is also facing a proposed class-action lawsuit launched by several patients. It alleges more than 50 children were conceived after their mothers were inseminated with the wrong sperm, including 11 with Barwin's.