On behalf of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC, I thank the editor of the BCMJ for the opportunity to provide a response to Dr. H. Douglas Cooper’s letter to the editor regarding legal matters that affect all registrants, which were communicated in the recent College Connector.
Gamete donor records
In the first instance, when the records sought by Ms Pratten were created they were never intended to be disclosed to anyone. The gametes that were donated were provided based on an expectation of anonymity. It is comparable to donating blood in that appropriate checks and balances are in place to do trace-backs and notifications, but the end recipient of the product is not ever intended to know the identification of the donor. That Ms Pratten wanted to know the identity of the donor is understandable, and ultimately a matter that the courts decided.
While the matter was being decided by the courts, the College took the position (since it was a party to the petition) that no gamete records could be destroyed. When the matter concluded, this prohibition on destruction of such records could be set aside. This court decision is one of right of access to a medical record, which Ms Pratten has been denied.
For Ms Pratten, and indeed many other children conceived through assisted reproduction technologies, the information about the identity of one’s biological parent is more important than a urine test result. Some jurisdictions in the world have changed their laws to only allow non-anonymous sperm donation, thus providing the opportunity to the child to know the identity of their biological origin. For those who would like to understand that perspective, listen to the series on npr.org entitled “Donor-Conceived Children Seek Missing Identities.”
Change to the Limitation Act
With respect to the change to the Limitation Act, this relates to records for which right of access has never been an issue. The law has clearly stated that patients have a right of access to their medical record, except for some narrowly described circumstances. Since patients can now bring forward civil actions for matters going back 16 years, the time period for record retention needed to be increased.
There is no doubt that the change to the Limitation Act has created an added burden to physicians with respect to retention of medical records upon retirement. As mentioned in communication with registrants previously, the College’s role is to ensure that physicians practising in BC are aware of, and compliant with, laws and legal matters that affect them in their medical practice, and ultimately to protect them in the event of future lawsuits.
—Heidi M. Oetter, MD
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