DIn the 1970s and 1980s, a fertility specialist in Indiana named Dr. Donald Cline treated dozens of patients with his own sperm without their knowledge or consent. The stories of some of these women and Cline’s (at least) 94 biological children will be told in a new documentary. Our fatherwhich premiered on Netflix in May.
The film, which includes interviews with the parents and their children as well as others close to the situation, chronicles the siblings’ journey to uncover the truth about their biological parentage and sheds light on their anger and determination when they didn’t see how Cline answered his crimes in court. At a time when the right to safe and informed reproductive care in the United States is under threat, Our father is particularly resonant given the questions it raises about how our legal system views those who seek control of their own reproductive choices and redress when that autonomy is violated.
Here’s what you should know Our father.
How one woman discovered she had dozens of half-siblings
Jacoba Ballard’s life changed after she took a DNA test at home and found out she had seven half-siblings. After reaching out to their newfound family members and exploring the secret of their relationship together, Ballard and her siblings soon discovered with horror what their parents’ trusted doctor had done. The number of confirmed siblings continued to grow as more people added their DNA to 23andMe’s database. Each time a new connection popped up on her profile, she braced herself before breaking the news. “I know I’m going to call her and ruin her life,” she says in the documentary.
“It completely washes away your identity,” says Julie Harmon, another sibling. “You really have no idea who you are anymore.”
Our father contains interviews with eight of the 94 siblings. Due to Cline’s lack of cooperation and the unknown number of patients he was able to impregnate by the time he quit practicing in 2009, there is no way of knowing for certain how many siblings there are.
Julie Harmon in Our Father
Courtesy of Netflix
Our father claims Donald Cline was religiously motivated
Our father suggests that Cline may have been motivated by an ideology born of his affiliation with an extremist Christian sect called “Quiverfull,” which encourages followers to reproduce as productively as possible in order to fulfill God’s commission to “be fruitful.” and to multiply’ and to install followers in positions of power. Examining the blonde hair and blue eyes of many of Cline’s descendants, the film briefly meditates on whether Cline’s crusade may have had white supremacist underpinnings (quiverfull ideology that promotes patriarchal gender ideology and other conservative ideals, and bemoans the decline in European populations, certainly seems to do so). .
The film emphasizes how Cline’s faith, which developed after accidentally hitting and killing a young girl with his car, permeated his practice as a doctor. He had his staff recite prayers together, advised patients to pray over their treatment decisions, decorated his office with Christian sayings, and had an affinity with the verse Jeremiah 1:5 (“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”), the often seen in material promoting the Quiverfull lifestyle. Cline has not publicly acknowledged or commented on ties to tradition.
Lack of justice for the victims
Our fatherThe main focus is to highlight the lack of legal remedies for the siblings and their parents. By the time the children of Cline’s former patients began uncovering the extent of his crimes in 2015, he was well retired and living in Indianapolis, Indiana. They contacted the offices of the Marion County Attorney General and the Indiana Attorney General, alleging that Cline’s medical practices amounted to rape and calling for an investigation, but, to their frustration, the process was slow.
While the siblings waited for authorities to take action, Cline lived as a supporter of the community and as an elder in his church, performing baptisms in his backyard swimming pool. He also began indirectly threatening the siblings with retaliation should they continue their efforts to press charges against him and make their story public. The lug nuts disappeared from Ballard’s car one day, she shares in the film. Harmon says she found that all mentions of Cline were suddenly deleted from her hard drive and all of her research disappeared overnight. Another sister, Heather Woock, who shared her story publicly, began receiving calls asking specifically if she was interested in buying a piece of cemetery land.
Jacoba Ballard in Our Father
Courtesy of Netflix
When the district attorneys eventually investigated Cline, the results were disappointing for the siblings, the women he fertilized, and their families. They had hoped an examination of his doctor’s office would provide enough evidence to charge him with rape. According to prosecutors at the time, Cline raped the women he fertilized with his own sperm, but not without their knowledge or consent.
“I do not deny that it was sexual abuse, [but] ‘DR. Cline committed rape” is a legal claim that was untrue, and I didn’t want to put it on paper with my signature,” says Tim Delaney, a 2015 prosecutor, in the film. “The people touched by it were very emotional and felt like I [was there] to deliver catharsis. It was not me.”
“I was raped 15 times and didn’t even know it,” says former Cline patient Liz White during her interview, in painful counterpoint. “There was no consent. He gave me no choice.”
The filmmakers behind it Our fatherincluding director/producer Lucie Jourdan, say they were moved to tell the story of the siblings and their parents to help them condemn Cline’s actions in front of a broad audience when it became clear the court had failed.
As is often, and annoyingly, the case in the US justice system, in order to prosecute Cline for the crime he committed, it was necessary to prosecute him for something else. In 2017, he was put on trial for lying during investigations into two counts of obstruction of justice. The obstruction of justice charges meant no evidence was admissible related to Cline’s actions toward his former patients — even though those actions represented the injustice for which the siblings and their parents genuinely sought redress. Cline pleaded guilty and received two suspended sentences (meaning he was serving no jail time) and a $500 fine.
Our father tells the story of an abuse so seemingly novel that there was no law prohibiting its actions until the siblings and parents affected by Cline’s crimes took their case to court and lobbied for protection. In 2018, the siblings’ lobbying, led by Matt White and his mother Liz White, helped get Indiana’s fertility fraud law passed. There is still no federal law on this subject.
while the story Our father is relatively unique, the violation of a person’s ability to choose the circumstances in which they conceive and the lack of legal protection for that ability is not. Cline’s decision, seemingly motivated by extremist religious beliefs, was made by a person with power on behalf of many people without power. Our father Eventually succeeds in his mission to shine the spotlight on the siblings’ story – and presciently emphasizes the tense framework that surrounds it.
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