May 29, 2024

The guys who make the rules always win

Hi there,

I was bowled over when I read about a family in Utah whose life was turned upside down after using a home genetics kit (see below). They discovered that John Branum was not the biological father of Annie Branum. Instead the biological father was Tom Lippert, a disgraced lawyer working at a fertility clinic linked to the University of Utah where Pamela Branum had artificial insemination in 1991.

“Disgraced” is a polite way of saying that Lippert died of alcoholism and that he had served two years of a six-year sentence for the lurid kidnapping of a coed in 1975. He tried to brainwash her into falling in love with him. In short, he was both kinky and a fruitcake.

It turns out that Mr Lippert not only prepared, labelled and shipped “samples” around the country, he had also been a frequent donor at the clinic. Behind his desk were photos of the clinic’s “success stories”. Mrs Branum now suspects that it could have been his bragging board. Why not? Mr Lippert was a very, very strange man.

However, a committee has produced a report for the University of Utah which says that it would be unethical to attempt to notify couples of Tom Lippert’s possible handiwork. It would upset people too much, it is unlikely to uncover more wrong-doing, it is very difficult, a dog ate the paperwork, it would breach privacy agreements, it’s not the University’s fault anyway, no one has been hurt, things are different nowadays and so on.

These arguments don’t convince the Branums and they don’t convince me. IVF must be the only industry in the world which can get away with excuses like that after catastrophic systemic failure. The one essential thing IVF clinics promise is the right baby. But they won’t test to ensure delivery. And if they fail, they will refuse to investigate the scope of the disaster for fear of hurting people’s feelings. If General Motors could play by those rules, would it be in bankruptcy court now? 

Michael Cook
The strange case of a sperm donor mix-up