Lesbian parents in Canada say they had an agreement: Rene deBlois would donate his sperm for artificial insemination and play no role in the life of any child that resulted.
Mr. deBlois says he signed that deal “under duress,” had second thoughts when Tyler Lavigne was born and is now demanding that the courts recognize him as a father with liberal access rights.
The resulting dispute in the Northern Ontario town of Cochrane is headed for a potentially precedent-setting trial, tackling head on the legal murkiness that often surrounds the increasingly common exchange of donated eggs and semen.
“We’re doing what we think is best for our child. He’s being raised in a happy and healthy environment,” Nicole Lavigne, one of Tyler’s mothers, said in an interview Tuesday. “His family is complete…. I think it’s very important that people be secure that the family they’ve created won’t be disrupted.”
The donor, on the other hand, said in his Ontario Superior Court application that Ms. Lavigne, an acquaintance from elementary school days, has failed to respond with her part of their original bargain, by carrying a child for him.
“[Ms. Lavigne] threatens and intimidates [Mr. deBlois] with the existence of the contract,” the document said. “He is no longer comfortable with the arrangement, and would like the contract voided.”
Growing numbers of children are being born in Canada as a result of in-vitro fertilization and other forms of “assisted” reproduction, often to same-sex couples. When donations are obtained anonymously from sperm banks, and in the few provinces with laws that directly address the issue, parenthood is generally uncontested.
In situations where couples and single people make arrangements with sperm donors they know, however — especially in provinces that lack such legislation — the rights of the various parties remain largely unresolved. A smattering of mostly lower-court rulings have addressed the question, but most of the cases have had complicating factors, such as a past relationship between the donor and recipient.
The Cochrane dispute, however, boasts the most clear-cut set of facts of any to reach the courts, making it an ideal legal testing ground, said Fiona Kelly, a University of British Columbia law professor who studies the issue.
Same-sex and other advocacy groups are planning to request intervenor status in the trial, expected to begin this fall, though the issue is important to single people and heterosexual couples, as well, said Michelle Flowerday, a Toronto lawyer representing Ms. Lavigne and her partner of 15 years, Selena Kazimierski.
“It raises so many important issues,” she said. “The issues are really close to the heart of parenting.”
According to Mr. deBlois’s application, filed a few months after Tyler’s birth in October, 2010, he remembers Ms. Lavigne as a “bully” from their time at Commando Senior Public School with whom he had not been in contact since 1992 when she approached him in 2008 about donating sperm.
She initially offered to carry a second child for him, but the agreement that he eventually signed did not touch on that part of their discussion, saying only that he would relinquish rights to the first child, the donor’s application says.
As Mr. deBlois supplied sperm on a sometimes daily basis, Ms. Lavigne performed artificial insemination at home, conceiving in 2010. Feeling he had been coerced into the deal, he asked the court after Tyler was born to require that he be officially recognized as the father and given “general and liberal” access to the boy, the application says.
Mr. deBlois was not available to comment, but Ms. Lavigne said the court action came out of the blue and left the couple “shocked,” the tension exacerbated by a small-town culture that is not always tolerant of same-sex parenting.
“It’s been very stressful,” she said.
Prof. Kelly said judges in similar cases have tended to side with the sperm donor, but argued the Cochrane case, involving a stable couple and a child they have raised from birth, should offer the court a clear choice.
“To decide in favour of the donor in this case, with these facts, would suggest that a lesbian couple in Canada can never be the sole legal parents of a child conceived with a known donor,” said Prof Kelly. “This would be an extremely troubling outcome.”
Article: 5th June 2012 www.news.nationalpost.com
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