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Editorial: U. sperm-donor investigation leaves troubling questions

Published April 28, 2014 11:31 am

U.'s sperm-swap probe is lacking.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The University of Utah's current administration cannot be blamed for a rogue employee and poor management at a U. fertility clinic two decades ago, but the administration's underwhelming response is not something that can be pinned on the past.

The case of the late Thomas Lippert, a convicted felon who worked at the U.'s Millcreek Community Laboratory from 1988 to 1993 apparently without a background check, has exposed not just Lippert, whose sperm may have been used to fertilize patients who thought the real donors were other men. It's also exposed some remarkably poor record keeping and management practices that raise questions about the treatment received by hundreds of infertile couples.

The university pledged to investigate when the Lippert case became public in January, but the U.'s internal investigation report released this week does not offer reassurances that the university has the answers it needs.

For one thing, the investigation did not include an interview with the clinic's office manager, who alleged that the clinic's director, who is also now dead, knew about Lippert's criminal past. Investigators also did not talk to Lippert's widow.

What's more, the U. set up a "hotline" for concerned patients — about 1,500 couples were treated at the clinic during Lippert's employ — but the calls went to the clinic itself, which includes some employees who worked at the clinic when Lippert did.

U. Medical Group CEO Sean Mulvihill said he only learned this week that some of the affected families were concerned about the clinic fielding the hotline calls, but he should have anticipated that. A scandal involving a rogue sperm donor is a huge deal. The impact affects families for the rest of their lives.

Consider Diane McAffee. Her daughter was conceived with sperm from the clinic, and she returned later to have a second child from the same donor — she was told he was a nuclear scientist — so the children would be biologically related. That second child is now a 17-year-old son, and when the Lippert scandal broke she pressed the university to see if Lippert was the donor instead. The university agreed to perform a DNA test and compare it with a sample from Lippert.

The result? The university says the donor wasn't Lippert, but it wasn't the nuclear scientist, either. They don't know who that donor was, and that is simply unacceptable.

The Texas couple who first exposed the Lippert case after determining he was the donor for their 21-year-old daughter says the U.'s investigation is biased, and there is no reason to believe the school has gotten to the bottom of this mess. They're right.