By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - The University of Utah on Wednesday said it is providing free paternity testing to women who conceived children at two fertility clinics that employed a lab worker suspected of artificially inseminating a patient with his own sperm.
Questions arose about practices at the now-defunct clinics when a woman artificially inseminated at Reproductive Medical Technologies Inc claimed that genetic testing showed that the late lab technician, Tom Lippert, rather than her husband, was the biological father of a daughter born in 1992, university officials said.
The mother at the center of the supposed sperm swap has not been identified by the university but told local television station KUTV in an interview earlier this month that she discovered the situation through DNA tests that she had conducted on her family.
A probe by the university into operations at the private clinic under contract to the school and its own community lab has unearthed records showing Lippert, who died in 1999, was considered a problem employee by some but a good worker by others, said Chris Nelson, a spokesman for the University of Utah Health Care.
Lippert prepared sperm specimens from 1988 to 1993 at both facilities, which were separate entities but shared the same building, overlapped on staff and administrative oversight and appeared to many patients to be one and the same, Nelson said.
The university has found no evidence so far confirming the claimed sperm switch but has offered to conduct free paternity testing for concerned patients, five of whom have contacted the school and two of whom have asked for genetic analyses.
"There's no easy answer to this one," Nelson said of the controversy swirling around the state's flagship research university, known for its advances in reproductive medicine. "It could be as simple as a labeling error, but the reality is, this guy is dead and he's the only one who could really know."
The school is seeking any available medical records from the private clinic, which was shuttered in 1998, and from the University of Utah Community Laboratory, which closed 10 years ago.
The university also has gathered a panel of medical experts to review the data and hired an independent medical ethicist to oversee any findings or recommendations by the medical team.
"We realize we have to have accountability and transparency, and we sympathize with the anxiety this may be causing the family and other patients," Nelson said.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)