Former fertility doctor Donald Cline’s story is detailed in Netflix’s Our Father, who shockingly never went to jail for his actions – here’s why.
As hard as it may be to believe due to his egregiously unethical actions, Our Father‘s Donald Cline never went to jail – here’s why. Netflix’s documentary Our Father details the story of the former fertility doctor Donald Cline, who, during the ’70s, ’80s, and possibly beyond, would use his own sperm to inseminate his patients without their knowledge and consent. They were instead under the reasonable belief that the sperm samples were from either their husbands or anonymous donors. when Our Fathers Jacoba Ballard took a 23andMe DNA home test, she discovered that she had at least seven unknown half-siblings, blowing away her expectation of discovering one or two at most. This led her down a whirlwind journey leading to the reveal of at least 94 Cline siblings, a number counting to this day.
By telling the story through one of Netflix’s best recent documentaries, there’s a relative level of tact and sympathy toward the victims who can finally seek some modicum of justice by letting their voices be heard. The Cline siblings express the identity crises and complex trauma they experienced upon finding out their genetic connection to the doctor, and the dread they continue to feel upon discovering another sibling who they may or may not already know. With most of the Cline siblings living in the Indianapolis area, the risk of consanguinity (relations between relatives) becomes greater, especially as the full list of their siblings is yet to be identified. There’s then the added trauma for the mothers, whose bodies were violated, and the fathers who were lied to about their children.
However, today Our Fathers Donald Cline is still a free man who’s engaged with the surrounding community. In 2017, he was put on trial for two counts of obstructing justice in relation to the investigation surrounding his illicit inseminations of him. He was charged with two Level 6 felonies, given a $500 fine, and had his medical license permanently revoked. As light as the overall punishment was in relation to his crimes from him, the medical license removal was particularly meaningless considering that Cline had retired eight years prior in 2009. Furthermore, while he faced jail time, his sentencing was instead suspended in lieu of a one-year probation period.
The issue wasn’t a matter of whether or not Cline’s actions were morally wrong – that’s impossible to argue against. However, at the time of his trial, Indiana legislation did not have anything set into law about fertility fraud. However, plenty of outcry against his sentencing of him prior to Our Father led to Indiana finally enacting legislation in 2019 that makes fertility fraud a Level 6 felony, thus protecting victims from deception and misrepresentation regarding fertility care. Regarding Cline’s sentencing, Indiana law allows judges to suspend as much of a person’s sentencing as they see fit, depending on the felony’s level (via Justia). While not explicitly expressed, likely contributing factors to Cline’s suspension are the fact that he was a first-time offending felon, that he was a valued member of his community despite the harm he caused his many victims, and that he was being charged for obstruction of justice and not his more extensive fertility fraud actions.
Despite Netflix’s subscriber numbers dropping, Our Father will still reach millions of people and spread awareness about a hidden nationwide issue. At Our Fathers release, at least 44 additional doctors had been found to inseminate patients with their own sperm. With the rising use of at-home DNA tests, this problem should only be expected to grow. However, thanks to Our Father and many brave whistleblowers, activists, and legislators, something can begin to be done about this issue.
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