14 January 2014

Sperm substitution at fertility clinic

The University of Utah is investigating a complaint that a convicted felon working at a fertility clinic replaced a customer's sperm with his own.


The University of Utah is investigating a complaint that a convicted felon working at a fertility clinic replaced a customer's sperm with his own, fathering a girl 21 years ago.

The mother of the girl, Pamela Branum, says she and her husband discovered a genetic mismatch in their daughter, and were able to trace her lineage with help from relatives of the now-deceased fertility clinic worker, Thomas Ray Lippert.

"I don't think we're the only ones," Branum told CBS affiliate KUTV in Salt Lake City. "We think we're one of many" victims who used a clinic that was operated by faculty members.

Semen tampering

The University of Utah says there is "credible" evidence of semen tampering or mislabelling. On Friday, the university announced it was opening a hotline and offering paternity testing to anyone who used the clinic between 1988 and 1993.

"It was hard at first, to think, 'Who am I?'" the daughter told KUTV in San Antonio, where the family moved in 2003. "I thought I was this person (of) my mom and my dad. Now, my dad is not my biological father. Who am I?"

Read: 5 common fertility questions 

In a statement that stopped short of taking responsibility or naming Lippert, the University of Utah Health Care system says it appears Branum's daughter was fathered by a clinic employee. The university says there are no remaining records from the Reproductive Medical Technologies clinic to prove the family's claim, or any evidence of other cases.

No comment

The fertility clinic performed some university services and was located next to a university laboratory. Three of the clinic's owners were faculty or staff members, the university statement says. Surviving members of the clinic refused comment to The Salt Lake Tribune.

A DNA test of Lippert's 99-year-old mother confirmed that she was the daughter's biological grandmother, professional genealogists have told Utah news outlets.

The family said they stumbled into their unhappy discovery while tracing their lineage using widely available DNA tests.

Read: Antioxidants may boost fertility

Branum said she didn't need a sperm donor – and would not have taken Lippert's – when she was impregnated with what she thought was her husband's sperm in 1991.

"I can't imagine a couple seeing him and saying 'Yeah, I want him,' she said.

Past transgressions

In a widely publicised case in 1975, Lippert took a plea bargain on kidnapping and other charges for subjecting a Purdue University female student to electroshock behavioural modification techniques in a so-called "love experiment".

The Salt Lake Tribune said he served two years in prison. The AP wasn't immediately able to retrieve court documents for the case.

The Branums, formerly of Park City, Utah, moved to San Antonio in 2003. John Branum is a retired Marine; his wife has two boys from a previous marriage.

Read more:

Embryo mix-up at fertility clinic

Women sell their eggs for cash



Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Exercise benefits for seniors »

Working out in the concrete jungle Even a little exercise may help prevent dementia Here’s an unexpected way to boost your memory: running

Seniors who exercise recover more quickly from injury or illness

When sedentary older adults got into an exercise routine, it curbed their risk of suffering a disabling injury or illness and helped them recover if anything did happen to them.