How Did the Doctor in Netflix's 'Our Father' Get Off Scot-Free?
The latest "true crime" documentary hit show on the streaming services is a true creep fest.
Netflix's "Our Father" tells the tale of an Indianapolis fertility clinic doctor who impregnated nearly 100 of his patients with his own sperm after lying to them that the sources were anonymous donors or their husbands.
That's disgusting. But the thing about "Our Father" that makes it special as a true-crime show is this: Even though Dr. Donald Cline admitted that he impregnated dozens of women without their consent, he managed to avoid paying much of a price for his actions.
DNA Tests Provided Proof
Cline's nefarious activity occurred during the 1970s and 1980s, long before consumer DNA tests, like 23andMe, became popular. Once those tests became available, of course, it was only a matter of time before the new technology would prove what happened.
One of Cline's secret children, Jacoba Ballard, took a 23andMe DNA test and discovered that she had seven half-siblings. She reached out to them, and soon they learned the truth: Their shared father was their parents' trusted fertility doctor.
As more and more people added their DNA to 23andMe's database, the size of Cline's progeny grew ever larger. It stood at 94 at the documentary's release, but that number may be significantly larger.
Cline told most of the women that the fathers were sperm donors who resembled their partners, although in some cases he lied that their husbands' sperm did the trick. So, why did he use his own sperm instead?
His secret offspring think he may have felt a sexual thrill, but they also believe his motivation may have been religious. He was an elder in a conservative evangelical church called Zionsville Fellowship, and some of the half-siblings provided evidence that he was affiliated with an extremely conservative sect called "Quiverfull," which encourages followers to procreate as much as possible to meet God's mandate to "be fruitful and multiply."
The movie is 90 minutes long, and details how the half-siblings discovered each other and the shock they and their parents experienced at learning the truth. It also provides background on Cline, his career, and his religious beliefs. It features many talking heads and occasionally includes reenactments.
But the juicy legal stuff doesn't start to bubble until about the one-hour mark. Cline's offspring shared their knowledge with the Indiana attorney general's office and with the Marion County prosecutor, hoping the evidence was enough to bring a charge of rape or battery with bodily waste. But as former county prosecutor Tim Delaney explained in the movie, "At the end of the day, there's just no crime that touches this particular act. That's our problem."
Cline wasn't charged with rape and he wasn't charged with battery with bodily waste, which Indiana law considers a crime only if it is done "in a rude, insolent, or angry manner."
$500 Fine and no Jail Time
However, a reporter on a local TV station took up the half-siblings' cause, and the exposure may have influenced the county prosecutor to take the Cline case more seriously. Cline, now a retiree, did end up in court in 2017, but it wasn't on charges of rape or battery. Instead, the charge that took him there was obstruction of justice — he had lied to prosecutors during their investigation. This meant that the evidence of Cline's actions involving his former patients was not admissible.
Cline pled guilty, paid a $500 fine, and received two suspended sentences. He served no jail time.
The trial did attract the attention of Indiana lawmakers, who passed a bill in 2019 making it a crime for doctors to fraudulently inseminate patients. It also allows victims to file civil lawsuits against doctors within five years of discovering they are a victim of fertility fraud. That is similar to recent laws providing "lookback windows" for adults who were victims as children in the Catholic sex abuse scandal. Since then, eight more states have passed similar laws.
Prosecutors, however, cannot apply a new criminal law retroactively, so Cline will still avoid jail time for his actions. But recent reports indicate that some of the families reached settlements totaling $1.35 million with Cline, though that money likely came from insurers and a state patients compensation fund.
"Our Father" points out that while Cline is the worst transgressor, he is not alone. Along with him, at least 44 other fertility doctors have inseminated women with their sperm, thinking they could get away with it.
- Find Personal Injury Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory)
- Artificial Conception: Artificial Insemination and In Vitro Fertilization (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- Do DNA Advances Mean Long-Ago Sperm Donors Can Sue? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life
- What Happens When the Fertility Clinic Screws Up? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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How the heck does a fertility doctor use his own sperm instead of a donor's to father patients' children, lie about it, and get away with it? A Netflix documentary shows how — and reveals how widespread the practice really is.
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