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Details of sperm mix-up at fertility clinic may always remain a mystery

SALT LAKE CITY--The results of an investigation released Thursday concluded that it may never be known how a convicted felon replaced a patient's sperm with his own two decades ago and fathered a child, or whether he did the same type of switch with other families.

The University of Utah said its review determined there was no evidence to suggest the late Thomas Lippert fathered any other children. However, it also noted that hundreds of families who used the fertility clinic where he worked have not been contacted.

The university, based on a recommendation by the doctors and medical ethicists who did the investigation, has chosen not to reach out to the estimated 1,500 couples who used the facility when Lippert worked there from 1988 to 1993.

Officials believe making families aware of the mix-up and offering paternity tests could cause emotional distress for families, some of whom may not have told children how they were conceived. The report also noted it would be an enormous task to find couples so long after their procedures.

“At this point, we're keeping our fingers crossed that it's an isolated event,” said Dr. Jeffrey Botkin, chair of the panel.

The committee was unable to determine if a sperm sample was intentionally or accidently switched by Lippert before the child was conceived. The report notes Lippert, a lab technician, was also a sperm donor at the clinic and frequently processed his own samples.

The private clinic was closely associated with the university and closed in 1998. Some of the supervisors at the clinic are dead.

The family at the center of the mix-up, the Branums, did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press but sent a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/1nsBu7U) blasting the report as being “cursory, biased and incomplete.”

“We know that key witnesses who have knowledge relative to the andrology lab at the U. were not interviewed; consequently, we believe the findings are highly questionable,” the statement said.

Their daughter, Annie Branum, now 21, has said the discovery has forced her to rethink who she is. Her family stumbled upon the situation while using widely available DNA tests to trace their family roots.

Only five people have had paternity tests done since the mix-up became public earlier this year, and the university created a hotline and website for affected families, Botkin said.

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