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The Fertility Doctor’s Secret (theatlantic.com)
68 points by pseudolus 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments



Hi, I am one of the hundreds + of offspring of Thomas Lippert - read the crazy story here: https://www.cityweekly.net/utah/multiplicity/Content?oid=237...

You can also find a bunch of video interviews that my half sister did when she found out by searching his name.

There are about 20 of us in contact now through 23&Me and Ancestry DNA tests, and at least 5 more that want no contact whatsoever. We get a new one nearly every month, and more so after holidays or sales on DNA tests. Estimations go into the thousands.

Luckily(?) my (real, not bio) dad was dead before he found out, but my parents had no idea.

Finding out was a serious trip. There were A LOT of implications with it, especially with meeting my half siblings. If anyone wants more details, I'm happy to talk about it.


Q1: What is your understanding of Thomas Lippert's motivations in doing what he did?

Q2: What physical & behavioral similarities do you observe between you and your half-siblings? Do you have any insight on the nature vs. nurture debate?


1. He hated kids and raised none, he was the epitome of the "get off my lawn" neighbor in his area and was really aggressive to the neighbors especially the kids. More info on that in the above link.

My siblings and I have speculated the hell out of his motivations, and I've personally come to the conclusion that he was in a position to industrialize his evolutionary impact and took advantage of it.

Most of life has an implicit "purpose" to reproduce, and he found an extremely efficient way of mechanizing that, without any of the downsides like actually raising the offspring.

It's odd and I'm getting personal here but I always knew I wanted kids since I can remember, and I knew that if I never found a partner to have children with, I'd want to donate sperm for the sheer biology of it. It's an odd thing to try to express, but I'd be surprised if most people don't have some level of that.

2. As far as physical characteristics, I actually look quite a bit like him in many ways (especially the younger photos before he was drinking himself to death). But certainly better :D You can reference my website in my bio and the link in my parent post if you want to see. Eyes, hair, skin color, facial features, relative height, etc.

Behavioral - I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder when I was 20. We could never figure out where that came from. It's treated now and also good to have someone to blame. I feel i share many personality traits that describe him, to certain (usually lesser) degrees.

They also say 80% of "intelligence" is inherited, and not to rag on my wonderful parents or prop myself up or anything, but we all sort of always wondered where I got that too vs my parents or other relatives. Also the aforementioned biological urge is a pretty interesting point - all of my siblings so far either have children or want them.

Most of my siblings are musical and play at least one musical instrument or sing or act or perform in some way, and he was apparently a great multi instrumentalist. The list goes on and on.

I'd put quite a lot more weight into nature than I ever would have before. I was convinced of nurture being the obvious bigger influencer but much of that could be attributed to lack of similarities with my family growing up. When I found out about this, I discussed it heavily with my siblings and some of their families and we all agreed that nature plays an enormous role that we'd never know otherwise.


Elliot, are you part of "We are Donor Conceived" on Facebook? There is a group of 1,000+ people on there that I think could really benefit from your perspective.


I haven't heard of it, thanks for the recommendation!


2: Not the parent comment, but I was conceived with "anonymous" donor sperm and managed to find my donor two years ago when I was 32. The similarities were shocking - our demeanor, hobbies, body language, method of speaking, and temperament were so similar it was eerie. We also look exactly alike save for a 25-year difference in age.


That sounds more similar than most people are with the biological father they grew up with.


It’s hard to actively avoid being like a parent when you don’t know what they are like.


What are your feelings towards Lippert?

How has the knowledge affected your life?


At first I was shocked, then I was mad, then I was curious, then I was actively involved in it, then I got apathetic, and now it's mostly just a fun story to tell at parties or when topics like this come up on forums.

My feelings toward him are very complicated. At surface level he's an evil asshole who violated my mother and family and hundreds of others, not to mention things like his neighborhood reputation or highly debated "kidnapping" conviction (very long story, she maybe was one of those "kidnapped herself" stories, but it's debated).

But deeper down, I wouldn't exist without him, in the sense of "I" as my identity and ego and DNA which, frankly, I wouldn't have any different. I'm happy with how my life has turned out and how I've grown to understand myself and the world and having this knowledge has only built upon that. My mother has forgiven him and like other commenters has loved me anyway this whole time thinking I was her husband's, but it doesn't change her view of me or him.

At another, weirder, impersonal level, I have somewhat of a sense of respect and awe in him for accomplishing a biological feat only possible in a short window of time and space that he figured out and exploited. It's weird to reflect on it from a purely objective biological big picture perspective.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


I would like to hear about some of those implications you mentioned. Assuming you're actually happy to talk about it.


1. Getting new "family" members and being in a large group of completely different people with different backgrounds brought together in this way gets exhausting fast.

For example, every single new sibling talks about a lawsuit right off the bat. We have to explain to them each time that: The clinic went under, Lippert (the IVF technician/bio father) died in 1999, and the doctor overseeing it killed himself and destroyed the records. There is no lawsuit possible because there's nobody to sue, but also we'd have to prove some sort of damages, and being alive doesn't really count, for most of us anyway :D.

Most of us who knew early on are also a bit weary of discussing it with new siblings in general, and many of us have wildly different ideologies like politics and religion, so conversation gets weird fast at any gathering or chat group. Also some get really reactive and get really weird with us when we reach out before they usually completely shut us out. Some have been more intense in that regard.

2. GSA. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_sexual_attraction. It's super real and has affected more than one sibling. This can be very intense, and intense attractions can lead to intense reactions. I don't know how much more there is to say about this other than reading up on it, but there are lots of examples of this and it's quite common in these scenarios.

Obviously this can lead to things like accidental (or purposeful) relationships (which is it's entirely own topic of discussion, esp with regards to marriage etc), or genetic birth defects of their kids. There aren't any examples of extremes of these in my situation that I'm aware of so I don't have any crazy stories, but you can see where it could lead.

Those are the big ones.

It can be quite pleasant too, and some of us have become close friends, I shouldn't leave that part out.


> But artificial insemination still requires an exchange of bodily fluids that can be procured only through sexual stimulation. (Consider: the stereotypical drawer of porn magazines at the fertility doctor’s office.)

This reminds me of the time I went to give my sample. I checked into the office, and the nurse looked at me, looked at my (Asian) wife, and then reached into her bottom drawer and pulled out a DVD of porn starting some Asian girls (I was not offered a choice or selection).

I was then given a cup and shown to my room. In the middle of the room was a very uncomfortable hospital chair covered in one of those pads that they put down that absorbs liquids to keep it sanitary. In the front of the room was a 20 inch tube TV/DVD combo (this was in 2013, long after the advent of flat screen TVs, so this TV was at least 10 years old). Hanging off the TV was a crappy pair of headphones.

To the left, a rack of about 25 porno mags of every kind of kink.

I was told to lock the door and then knock when I was done so the sample could be collected.

Not exactly the most conducive environment for producing that sample.


After I had my tubes tied, the office wanted a sample to verify the procedure, but as I recall they had me bring it in from home. Handing over a brown paper bag with a plastic container of your bodily fluids, whatever they may be, to the receptionist at a doctor's office is always an odd experience, but obviously they are used to it.


Most of my samples were given that way, but for the IVF fresh cycles, they needed it to be... fresher.


> one of those pads that they put down that absorbs liquids to keep it sanitary

I believe the colloquial term is "pee pad."


We call it an “inco pad” here.. inco being from incontinence, but they’re useful in far more situations than just incontinence!


My children were conceived by IVF (in the 2010s). I'm not too worried that the doctor used their own sperm, since the doctor is a woman, and in fact I didn't see a single man working anywhere in the IVF clinic.

But one thing that's always on my mind is what if they accidentally switched the sample before conception? Since the conception took place outside of my wife's body, what's even better is that our children might be related to me but not her, if they switched the eggs around.

At some point we'll probably do a DNA test on them just for fun. The results won't matter at that point -- they're mine and I love them.

But you know, maybe they get a free college education out of the results. :)


I have 3 kids conceived by IVF as well. We donated the leftover fertilized eggs and a couple has now a 12 year old daughter. I have seen the pictures and my 3 kids know that they have a biological sister out there. It will be interesting to see if she will contact us once and if she finds out (We allowed for the option to contact us)


Cool! We're still trying to figure out what to do with our last embryo. We've been told that they have too many embryos for science in California, and they can't cross state lines, so they are throwing away the donations.

We're still not sure if we want to try and use it ourselves (although the time for that is quickly going away) or give it to someone we know who wants it, or giving it to a stranger. Giving it to a stranger just feels odd to me, but at the same time I'd really like to see the results of nature vs nurture...


I recommend the documentary "Three Identical Strangers". Stay for the surprise ending.


As a child of an IVF doc swap, I promise there are no rewards for the result. No free college, that's for sure!


Ohh really? I didn't think it actually happened. How did that go down? Did you meet your bio parents? Did your parents sue the clinic and fail or just not sue?


The clinic went under, my bio dad (the IVF technician) died way before i found out, and the doctor overseeing it killed himself and destroyed the records. There is no lawsuit possible because there's nobody to sue, but also we'd have to prove some sort of damages, and being alive doesn't really count, for most of us anyway :D


Accidentally switching not the sample, but the patient, is the premise of a wonderful sitcom aired on The CW. (Edit: Jane the Virgin.)


What's the name of the show? The Google is failing me.


Probably "Jane the Virgin"?


Ah, no wonder my wife liked that so much. I haven't seen it.


This sounded so familiar that I googled little.

Fertility doctor getting caught using his own sperm has happened several times before. It has been the plot in tv-series and SNL skit.

It's obvious solution if you want to improve the results of your clinic and perform miracles when all other doctors fail.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/the-fertil...?

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5603323/Canadian-fe...


*In 1987, a national survey of fertility doctors found that 2 percent had used their own sperm in patients.


And that's just ones who would admit it on a survey.


There may be the opposite effect too. People who misread the question or joke around or whatever.

I've heard that you will always get a small percentage yes on surveys no matter the question.



I think the record is 600 offspring:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertold_Wiesner


Wild. What a sick, strange thing to do.


the Law and Order episode "Seed" in season 5 (1995) dealt with a similar case. I'm not surprised it's coming out in real life as genetic testing becomes consumer-accessible.


In the end, does it really matter that much who provided the DNA? Family is mostly socially constructed anyway - just because half the children's DNA comes from someone else, doesn't mean they belong any less to the parents who raised them.


Of course it does. DNA plays a large role in a person's life including their health risks. You'd want to your doctor to be honest with you about what they're putting in your body, wouldn't you?


If it doesn't matter, there's no issue being transparent about it.


Which is great for people that can't have or don't want to raise their own DNA. But there's no way I'm signing up for that. The fact is that DNA matters a lot, and the linkage between DNA and behavior is only just starting to be unraveled. Parenting matters a lot too, but it's not the whole picture.


I don't disagree with this, but the children have the right to know - for example, are there inheritable medical conditions which they may be at risk for? or if not medical, what about inheriting other traits? I think this paragraph summed up this concern well: "Ballard struggled with what it meant, existentially, to have inherited the DNA of a man who would lie to his patients and abuse his position as a doctor. Whatever made him do it, was that inside her, too? She knew the thought wasn’t entirely rational, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that a dark impulse might be lurking deep within her."


My experience with adopted children:

- It matters a lot to some

- It matters a a bit to most

- It matters little to none to some

The quotes from the article seems to confirm this. To pile on to that anecodotal eveidnce, here's another quote from an adoptee I know:

"Just because I know I'm way better off being raised by [adoptive parents] doesn't mean I don't feel abandoned by [biological parents]"

[edit]

And at least from a biological standpoint, since your brain was evolved for the sole purpose of aiding in spreading the genes you posses, it makes sense that it would matter to your brain.


I think this depends on if you believe that personality and ability comes from nature or nurture. I assume some would like their children to have traits similar to their own which could include personality/mental health, IQ, physical health, etc. You're reasonably bounded by each parents family history.

On the other side, you may be using a donor to exclude one parents genetics, due to a known genetic issue.

Getting some random guys DNA eliminates any sort of ability for selection, which is what choosing a partner, or choosing to not reproduce with a partner, is.


Truth be told I don't have a good argument against "Family is mostly socially constructed anyway"

But the idea of this not mattering, of the DNA not being very meaningful, seems deeply, deeply wrong. A gut feeling that says "Absofuckinglutely NOT".


It's fraud and it harms trust in the medical profession. It's like if you asked a tattoo artist to ink you with the Chinese symbol for "woke progressive" but instead they give you a tattoo that translates to "easily fooled."


In the case of switching the eggs, is it possible that the host mother would be more likely to reject it? Because in that case, I feel it's a fairly clear case in which you have directly affected one's ability to have a family by doing this.


Not sure about one woman's eggs in another woman, but this is certainly true of an anonymous sperm donor. In order to have the lowest chance of pre-eclampsia the woman needs to have been exposed vaginally to the man's semen for six months. Donor sperm children thus have higher rates of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24011785

Similarly, donor sperm has been shown to increase pre-eclampsia

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25282539

Not all sperm is the same, regardless of what the market or the fertility industry thinks. There's a purpose to the act of sex.


I would say yes.... for example if heart disease doesn't run in your 'family' but it does in the doctor's, it would be good to know.... same is true for other diseases


Do you not care if you raise a kid that looks like your doctor?


Honestly men probably shouldn't be put in a position to be able to tamper with things like this. The evolutionary advantageous temptation is too great.

Similarly, to solve a related problem, we should require mandatory paternity testing at birth so men don't unwittingly raise someone else's child.




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