Members of Ottawa’s trans community are rallying behind Dr Bernard Norman Barwin, who was recently banned from practising medicine for two months for artificially inseminating three of his patients with the wrong sperm.
The doctor was found guilty on one of the three charges brought against him by a disciplinary panel of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons Jan 31.
Barwin has been the go-to doctor for trans Ottawans seeking hormone replacement therapy for decades, and, his fertility falters notwithstanding, his patients and colleagues describe him as a dedicated and understanding physician.
Samantha, who asked Xtra not to disclose her surname, has gone to Barwin for five years for hormone therapy and says he is a “professional and very dear man.”
At their first meeting, Samantha recalls congratulating Barwin on his Order of Canada award that hung prominently in his office. Barwin’s reaction to the compliment was self-effacing, she says.
“He’s that kind of a person. He’s not the kind of person who wants to be important,” she says. “He’s the kind of person who wants to help people, and I admire him greatly.”
Barwin’s recent legal troubles are of no concern to his trans patients, Samantha says, and she will continue to use his services.
“I have the fullest confidence in his abilities to do what he has to do. I trust him implicitly,” she says. “Yes, mistakes have been made, but I don’t feel that has any bearing on his future work.”
Amanda Ryan, of Ottawa trans support group Gender Mosaic, has never considered undergoing hormone therapy herself but says she has heard an outpouring of support for Barwin from the community.
“He’s the only significant resource,” Ryan says. “The fear has always been that he’s going to retire at some point, and there really isn’t anyone else that is taking on that job full time.”
But there may be more resources for the trans community in the near future.
Dr Nili Kaplan-Myrth and Dr Jennifer Douek, who work out of Barwin’s Broadview Avenue office several days a month, do see trans patients for hormone therapy but not on the same level as Barwin, says Centretown Community Health Centre’s (CCHC) Judy McConnery, director of mental health and addictions.
CCHC recently collaborated with Rainbow Health Ontario to train CCHC counsellors and primary-care providers in assessing patients for hormone replacement therapy.
While CCHC counsellors can now assess patients, McConnery says, its doctors are not yet able to facilitate hormone therapy.
“We are working with different CHCs in Ottawa to get our own doctors up to that grade, but we’re not there yet,” she says. “[We wanted to] up our understanding and our openness to this population that has been marginalized for a long time.”
Barwin participated in the CCHC training, and McConnery says his input proved invaluable.
“He came to these trainings even though he was trained himself. He contributed a lot with his own experience,” she says. “He is really the only doctor that starts trans people on hormones. Without him in the equation, it’s scary.”
Staff at Barwin’s office confirm that although he has voluntarily closed his fertility practice, he has no plans to cease seeing trans patients.
An interview request directed to Barwin’s lawyer, Karen Hamway, received no response.