B.C. woman continues fight to learn identity of biological father

Olivia Pratten sits outside the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, in October 2010. (Jonathan Hayward /The Canadian …The Rockwellian vision of a family of four gathered 'round the Christmas tree singing carols and sipping cocoa holds almost no similarity to the current makeup of the average Canadian family.

Less commonly are families a mother, a father and their two children. Families take different shapes, include different people.

Same-sex couples with adopted children, husbands on their second wife and a brood of step-children underfoot. Single mothers who used sperm donors, three men and a baby, the list goes on.

This new reality puts an interesting spin on a B.C. woman's desire to learn the identity of her biological father, who was promised anonymity when he donated sperm all those many years ago.

[ Related: Court denies kids right to know sperm donor identity through doctors' records ]

The ongoing debate pits a child's right to know her biological history against a sperm donor's right to anonymity and continues to bounce and spin in and out of court.

The Canadian Press reports that the B.C. Court of Appeal rejected Olivia Pratten's bid to learn the identity of her sperm-donor father this week, throwing out an earlier decision that had come down in her favour.

Pratten will now take her quest to the Supreme Court of Canada where the next round of this years-long battle will be held.

Pratten told the Press that children sired by sperm donors deserve to know the identity of their father, similar to children from other non-traditional backgrounds.

All we were asking for is the same benefits of adopted people. ... It's failing to protect the health and safety of donor-conceived people, that's what this court has done.

Pratten, who lives in Toronto but was born in Nanaimo, B.C., was raised by parents who had used an anonymous sperm donor. The files on the donor have been destroyed, in keeping with the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons guidelines.

The B.C. appeal court ruled that children have no legal right to know their biological past, specifically in cases where donors were guaranteed anonymity.

The decision overruled a B.C. Supreme Court decision last year, which backed Pratten and told the province to amend its Adoption Act in order to protect those born through anonymous sperm donation from suffering psychological harm.

During that battle, Albert Yuzpe, co-founder of Vancouver's Genesis Fertility Centre, told the Globe and Mail that revoking the promise of anonymity could have a negative effect on the number of donors.

"The problem is, in countries where they have legislated [disclosure] the number of volunteer donors has gone down quite significantly," he said at the time.

This is a battle that fewer in the next generation will need to fight. In Canada, sperm banks currently have anonymous and open-identity donors. The latter have consented to the release of their identity, once the child reaches 18 years of age. The former have not.

[ Related: Antioxidants tied to older men's sperm quality: study ]

Pratten's campaign is understandable. It is natural to want to know the truth about where you came from. On Canadian Donor Offspring, a website chronicling the battle, she outlines her thoughts on the matter:

My own parents were counseled to not tell me. So before forming an opinion about this, I always ask people to put themselves in my shoes: if you found out tomorrow that your dad wasn't your biological father, could you honestly say that you would be satisfied never knowing who he was? And furthermore, would you tolerate being told you had no right to find out?

Pratten's desire to learn the identity of her biological father has to be balanced against what is best for the donor system, and the promises they have made to donors, for better or worse.

Earlier this year, a sperm provider who had sporadic contact with his child won a paternity ruling after the child's mother passed away.

The donor was not anonymous but had donated his sperm with the understanding he would not be part of the family unit. It did not stop him from stepping in and taking the child from its grandparents, according to the National Post.

The option of anonymity maintains a significant wall between members of a loving family and those who simply played a role in bringing it together. Pratten was wanted, very wanted, by her mother and her non-biological father. The donor was purposely left out of the equation.

If the vow of anonymity is removed, there is no wall stopping those donors from seeking out their biological children.

How would such a child react if their biological father showed up at her house unannounced, waiving a paternity test and looking for a couch to crash on for a couple of days, or a couple of buck to get through the weekend?