DENVER — They thought it would be a fun genetics test to learn about family heritage but, after a startling discovery, a family has triggered an investigation into alleged sperm tampering at a former Utah fertility clinic.
The University of Utah, which ran the former Reproductive Medical Technologies clinic, is investigating allegations that Tom Lippert, a former employee of the clinic and convicted felon, swapped out semen samples with his own sperm.
Lippert worked at the clinic while working as a college professor. Prior to his time with the University of Utah he served two years in prison for a 1975 crime in which he kept a college co-ed in a black box for three weeks, and used electroshock therapy on her.
Pam Branum says a genetic test revealed Lippert to be the father of her daughter Annie. She said she remembered him from the clinic because he had a collection of baby photos at his desk.
“I commented on the dozens of baby pictures up there,” Branum said. “He smiled and looked at those and said those are all the babies that I’ve helped couples have.”
The university set up a hotline for other families worried about potential tampering. However, there is very little officials may be able to do. The clinic closed in 1992, and the records no longer exist. Lippert also died in 1999.
“I’m kind of glad he’s dead,” Branum said. “It kind of puts that part of it to rest.”
In Colorado, fertility clinics, such as the one run by University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine (UCARM), have protocols in place to try to make sure samples are protected from tampering and mistakes.
“To me it is unthinkable,” said Dr. Ruben Alvero, a reproductive endocrinologist.
Alvero says clients at UCARM are protected by detailed labeling and sample transferring procedures.
“So the chain of custody is absolutely, one hundred percent tight,” Alvero said.
He says the process is also protected against employee tampering, thanks to oversight by physicians, technicians and nurses.
“Although bad people can do bad things, usually we have enough oversight that really there is no opportunity for an individual to do that,” Dr. Alvero said.
The University of Utah is having a hard time learning exactly what Tom Lippert did because the clinic closed in 1992 and he died in 1999.