US fertility clinic worker may have replaced customer's sperm with 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 at least one child, a girl, 21 years ago.
The mother of the girl, Pamela Branum, said 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 a television station in Salt Lake City, capital of the US state of Utah. "We think we're one of many" victims who used a clinic that was operated by faculty members.
The University of Utah said there was "credible" evidence of semen tampering or mislabelling. On Friday, the university said it was opening a hotline and offering paternity testing to anyone who used the clinic between 1988 and 1993. In a statement that stopped short of taking responsibility or naming Lippert, the University of Utah Health Care system said it appeared Branum's daughter was fathered by a clinic employee.
"It was hard at first, to think, 'Who am I?'" the daughter told the television station in San Antonio, Texas, where the family moved in 2003. "I thought I was this person [of] my mum and my dad. Now, my dad is not my biological father. Who am I?"
The university said there were no remaining records from the Reproductive Medical Technologies clinic to prove the family's claim, or any evidence of other cases.
A spokeswoman for the university's Health Sciences division declined to comment on what officials had learned since opening the investigation in April.
"Truthfully, they haven't been investigating," Branum told The Salt Lake Tribune. "They've been stonewalling this whole time."
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 said. 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.