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Fertility clinic worker's sperm swap uncovered by child's DIY gene test

13 January 2014
Appeared in BioNews 737

A couple who used artificial insemination services at a Utah fertility clinic have found out that their daughter, Ashley, is in fact the genetic daughter of a former clinic worker. The couple, known as Paula and Jeff, believed that Jeff's sperm had been used in the treatment and had not requested for donor sperm to be used at any point.

Thomas Lippert, Ashley's biological father, had worked at Reproductive Medical Technologies fertility clinic between 1986 and 1995, coinciding with Ashley's conception in 1991. The family discovered this after contacting Cheryl, Lippert's first cousin.

The family's first step towards uncovering the revelation was taking 'at-home' DNA tests from the company 23andMe. The results revealed that Jeff was not Ashley's biological father.

After hunting for leads via genetic genealogy testing companies Family Tree DNA and AncestryDNA, the family found that Ashley had a second cousin unrelated to Paula. They suspected that this relative was a possible link to Ashley's biological father.

This relative, Cheryl, informed Paula and Jeff that Lippert had been both a worker and donor at the fertility clinic that they had used. Paula recognised Lippert as a staff member with whom she and Jeff had come into contact during their visits to the clinic.

Lippert's mother agreed to provide DNA for a test as her son died in 1997. The test indicated that Thomas Lippert was most likely Ashley's biological father.

Cheryl also informed them of Lippert's past, which included a criminal conviction for kidnapping. Lippert had served two years in prison for holding a fellow college student for three weeks and conducting 'love experiments' involving electroshock therapy on her.

Learning of Lippert's criminal activity led Paula and Jeff to become concerned about the possibility of him having fathered other patients' children without their knowledge. With the help of CeCe Moore, a genealogist who broke the story on her blog, the family have set up a website for other families who believe that they may be related to Lippert.

The University of Utah, linked to the now defunct fertility clinic where Lippert worked, has also begun investigating the case. The University issued a statement, which includes an offer to pay for genetic testing for those who believe they may be in a similar situation to Paula and Jeff.

'There are no remaining records from Reproductive Medical Technologies to prove the claim and the man in question has been deceased since 1997', the statement reads. 'Consequently, it is unknown how this incident might have happened. In addition, there is no evidence to indicate this situation extends beyond the case in question'.

But speaking to The Salt Lake Tribune, Lippert's widow, Jean, suggested that such evidence may yet come to light.

'I think, because Tom didn't have any kids, he wanted to have a lot of kids out there', she said. He 'claimed to be a frequent sperm donor', the newspaper says.

'Maybe he switched some samples so he could have more of his kids in the world', Jean Lippert concludes.

Artificial Insemination Nightmare Revealed by DNA Test
Your Genetic Genealogist (blog) |  7 January 2014
At-Home Genetic Testing Reveals A Sperm-Swapping Nightmare
SF Gate |  8 January 2014
Family Discovers Insemination Switch After Tracing Genealogy
KUTV |  9 January 2014
Report: Utah kidnapper is woman’s father due to semen switch
Salt Lake Tribune |  9 January 2014
The University Of Utah Is Investigating A Fertility Clinic For Using The Wrong Sperm
SF Gate |  9 January 2014
"Very Strange" Fertility Clinic Worker
KUTV |  9 January 2014
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