A Canadian fertility doctor used his own or unknown sperm to impregnate his patients, so creating many babies who grew up believing they had a different father.
Now, in what is thought to be the first-ever legal settlement of its kind, these children have been offered a C$13 million (US$10 million) settlement.
Under the terms of the deal, 226 claimants will be given compensation based on a court-determined level of harm.
The doctor worked at two clinics in Ottawa, Ontario, and many of the patients who went to him for IVF treatment now have grown up children who are biologically related to him.
When initially confronted, the doctor told parents that his own sperm might have been used accidentally as he probably did not clean the automated sperm counting chamber, in which he had performed a test using his own sperm.
While medical regulators have revoked his licence, the patients are finding it hard to come to terms with the fact that their children carry the genes of an unethical doctor.
80-year-old Dr Norman Barwin, who was in practice for over 41 years, was hailed as “baby god” before the truth came to light and resulted in the stripping of his licence.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) said his conduct “would reasonably be regarded by members as disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional”.
Many couples who were told that the male partner’s sperm would be used were unknowingly given random samples, or Barwin’s own.
Some of the claims date back to the 1970s. Barwin has not practised since 2014.
The settlement must still be approved by a judge before any money will be made available.
Rebecca Dixon, 31, found out that her real father was Barwin – whose clinic her parents had visited – after she developed a disease that nobody else in her family had. She and her parents launched the lawsuit in 2016.
“I am not sure we will ever achieve closure,” she told the Ottawa-Citizen newspaper.
“It is something that will be with us for the rest of our lives. But the legal side wrapping up will allow people to come to a bit more peace with the situation.”
The proposal also calls for C$75,000 to be used to set up a database for children conceived at his clinics to find out the identity of their father. The purpose of the database will be to provide children with the opportunity to identify their biological fathers, gain access to medical history and to locate any half-siblings.
Barwin and his lawyer had no comment on the matter, but the settlement does not require the former fertility doctor to admit any fault.
He “has denied and continues to deny all of the plaintiffs’ claims in this action,” lawyers said in court documents filed on Wednesday.
In 2019, Barwin was stripped of his medical licence by the CPSO, which called his actions “beyond reprehensible”.