The new Netflix documentary Our Father tells the unsettling story of Dr. Donald Cline, a fertility doctor who was found to have inseminated dozens of women with his own sperm without their knowledge. The film depicts the discovery of Cline's illicit activities, with Jacoba Ballard recalling how she took a DNA test and discovered that she had multiple half-siblings, though she was an only child. It turned out that Cline was her biological father, and she was the first of over 90 (and counting) people who discovered that they were also Cline's biological children. (The documentary also features reenactments of parts of the story, with actor Keith Boyle playing Cline himself.)
Many viewers finished the film wondering what happened to the doctor who violated his patients for over a decade (at least, that's the confirmed span thus far). Did Dr. Cline face consequences, and where is he now? Unfortunately, the answer is as shocking as the documentary itself.
Was Dr. Cline prosecuted for his crimes?
Cline opened his practice in 1979 and is believed to have inseminated women with his own sperm until 1986. He told his patients that the sperm donors were anonymous medical residents, and that no single donor’s sperm was used more than three times. It was only through DNA testing records that his biological children found out that Cline had been using his own sperm. When six of the half-siblings confronted Cline, according to the documentary, he admitted to using his own sperm and said their parents' records were destroyed.
Despite the victims' and children's ongoing calls for justice, Cline was never charged with rape. As a lawyer explains in the documentary, it would have been extremely hard to charge Cline with rape, both because Indiana didn't have a specific law considering what he did a sexual violation and because he was well-known in the community, as the preeminent fertility doctor in Indianapolis during his career.
This is despite the victims interviewed in the documentary saying that they never would've consented to him being the sperm donor, and that they felt violated by what he did. Experts joined them in pointing out that Cline would have had to masturbate somewhere nearby while the women were waiting insemination, and he could have still been experiencing the after-effects of arousal during the appointment.
In 2016, Cline was charged with two charges of felony obstruction of justice: for lying to the attorney general's office about using his sperm with two victims; and for threatening Ballard with lawsuits for "slander and libel". After pleading guilty, he received a year of probation, paid a $500 fine, and lost his medical license (though he had retired in 2009), per The Atlantic (opens in new tab). According to Fox59, Cline has paid over $1.3 million in settlements to his victims and their families.
Where is Dr. Donald Cline now?
At the time The Atlantic's 2019 article on Cline was published, he was in his 80s and still living in his home town of Indianapolis, Indiana. He kept a low profile and still had many supporters in the community. Several of Cline's children also live in Indianapolis, some within blocks of their biological father.
As for why he did what he did, no one knows for sure. The documentary does point out that Cline was extremely religious, with numerous Christian sayings decorating his office, and is an elder in his church. He also often repeated a Biblical phrase from Jeremiah 1:5, "Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you." He also has connections to Quiverfull, a Christian movement that encourages having as many children as possible.
His former church responded to the Netflix documentary in an interview with Fox59, claiming that Cline had admitted to them that he had been unethical, but that they'd had no idea the breadth of his deceit. "They tell us if they knew back then what they know now—Cline would have been removed from his position of authority within the church," reported Fox59. Cline has reportedly since moved on to a different church.
Did the law change after Dr. Cline was found out?
In 2019, Indiana passed a state law (opens in new tab) in response to Cline's actions, with several of his victims and biological children helping push it through. The fertility fraud law makes it illegal for fertility doctors to use their own sperm without their patient's consent, and it allows the doctor's victims, their spouses, and their children to sue in civil court.
Unfortunately, Cline is one of several doctors who have been discovered to use their own sperm in multiple patients over the past few years. (There's even another documentary about a similar case in Nevada, HBO's Baby God (opens in new tab).) There isn't currently a federal law that would make these doctors' illicit inseminations a criminal offense.
Quinci LeGardye is a Contributing Culture Editor who covers TV, movies, Korean entertainment, books, and pop culture. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.
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