Celebrity Stories

The man behind “Our Father”, Dr. Donald Cline

Beth Ashley  |   18 Jul 2022


Netflix have been sued over it. More than 50 people were conceived because of it. And Dr. Donald Cline is – retired (we know, we know). But who is Dr. Donald Cline? And why should we care?

An ancestry DNA horror story

Dr. Donald Cline was a respected man in his community, elder of his church and a fertility doctor with his own medical practice. But in 2014, within several blocks of Cline’s clinic, Jacoba Ballard, a local resident, got her DNA test results back from genealogy company 23andme.

As far as 23andme horror stories go – and there are a few – this was in another league.

Most people who take a 23andme test expect to discover more about their lineage, revealing interesting and often fun information about their ancestry. But sometimes, these at-home genealogy test kits reveal secrets that upend a person’s – or many people’s – lives. Jacoba Ballard was one of those people. Opening the results for her DNA test, she discovered some anomalies. She was an only child, but her test results revealed multiple half-siblings.

our-father-donald-cline

Photo credit IMDb

Who is Jacoba Ballard?

Following the 23andme DNA test, Ballard discovered she was one of 90 (and counting) siblings. And that together, they are the biological children of Dr. Donald Cline. For nearly a decade, Cline had inseminated women who came to him with fertility issues (often in desperation) with his own sperm. And he never told them.

In May 2022, Netflix released their acclaimed documentary on the story, titled Our Father. It follows Jacoba Ballard and several of her half-siblings in their re-telling of how they sought justice against Cline. But ultimately, were they successful?

Why did Cline skip jail?

Dr. Cline opened his clinic in Indianapolis, Indiana, 1979. He’s believed to have used his own sperm in practice until 1986, but the exact time frame isn’t certain. Patients assert that Cline had told them the sperm came from anonymous medical volunteers. According to Our Father, it took six of the half-siblings to come together and confront Cline decades later, for him to admit using his own sperm.

But even with a confession, the authorities struggled to charge Cline with his crimes. The state of Indiana, where this scandal unfolded, doesn’t have a specific law under which his acts could be considered a sexual violation. This, paired with his status in the community, meant that Cline was never charged with sexual assault, as many believe he should have been.

$500 fine, and banned for one year

In 2018, however, he was finally convicted of two felony charges – obstruction of justice for lying to the attorney general’s office about using his sperm with two victims, and threatening Ballard with lawsuits for “slander and libel”.

Cline pled guilty, but upon sentencing, he received only a year of probation and a $500 fine. He did have his medical licence removed but as he had already retired in 2009, this was little punishment. In the civil case, Cline paid $1.3 million in settlements to his victims and their families.

Speculation surrounds Cline’s exact motive. The basic desire to have children is ruled out, by the fact that he raised four in his own marriage. And in a confrontation with Jacoba Ballard, he claimed that in cases where he’d inseminated with his own sperm,  it was the mother who’d been desperate to have a child.

Cline’s links to Quiverfull

In all likelihood, the motivations run significantly deeper (and darker). Many sources, including the Netflix documentary, cite his links to Quiverfull. This fundamentalist Christian movement who preach widespread procreation, denouncing contraception, abortion and sterilization by choice.

The documentary scrutinises a particular line of scripture – one that made Quiverfull’s website homepage – which was framed in Cline’s office. It was also the “gift” that he gave to Jacoba Ballard when they first met:

Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you.”

Increasingly sinister is Quiverfull’s rumoured white supremacy agenda, and their alleged advocacy for “more white children”. Due to the fact that so many of Cline’s biological children share his characteristics of blonde hair and blue eyes, this theory has gained a lot of traction.

Where is Dr. Donald Cline now?

Cline’s former church, who aren’t openly associated with Quiverfull, responded to Fox59, claiming Cline had admitted unethical behaviour, but that hey’d had no idea the breadth of his deceit. Fox59 relayed that “if they knew back then what they know now – Cline would have been removed from his position of authority within the church.”

Cline has reportedly since moved on to a different church in Indianapolis.

At a state level, in response to Cline’s actions and with victims and biological children helping push it through, the fertility fraud law has changed. It now contains a clause that makes it illegal for fertility doctors to use their own sperm without their patient’s consent. It also allows the doctor’s victims, spouses, and children to sue in civil court.

Incredibly and to this day, there still isn’t a federal law in place that would make these Cline’s acts a criminal offence.

Cline, now in his 80s, is one of several doctors discovered to have used their own sperm, to inseminate patients. He’s believed to still be living in his home town of Indianapolis.

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