During the 1970s and 1980s, an Indiana fertility specialist named Dr. Donald Cline inseminated dozens of patients with his own sperm, without his knowledge or consent. The stories of some of these women and Cline’s (at least) 94 biological children are told in a new documentary, Our Father, which premiered on Netflix in May.
Featuring interviews with the parents and their children, as well as others close to the situation, the film chronicles the brothers’ journey to discover the truth about their biological ancestry and highlights their anger and resolve when they failed to see cline answer for his crimes in court. At a time when the right to safe and informed reproductive care is under threat in the United States, Our Father is particularly resonant given the questions he raises about how our legal system views those who seek control over their own reproductive options, and restitution when that autonomy is violated.
This is what you should know about our father.
how one woman found out 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 contacting her new family members and investigating the mystery of her shared relationship, Ballard and her siblings soon discovered to their horror what her parents’ trusted doctor had done. The number of confirmed siblings continued to grow as more people added their DNA to the 23andme database. every time she saw a new connection appear on her profile, she steeled herself before reaching out to break the news. “I know I’m going to call them and I’m going to ruin their lives,” she says in the documentary.
“It just completely erases your identity,” says Julie Harmon, another sister. “You really have no idea who you are anymore.”
our father includes interviews with eight of the 94 brothers. Due to Cline’s lack of cooperation and the unknown number of patients he had the opportunity to inseminate until he stopped practicing in 2009, there is no way of knowing for sure how many siblings there may be.
our father alleges that donald cline was motivated by religion
our father suggests that cline may have been motivated by an ideology born of his affiliation with an extremist christian sect called the “quiverfull”, which encourages followers to reproduce as prolifically as possible in order to fulfill God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply,” and to install adepts in positions of power. Examining the blonde hair and blue eyes of many of Cline’s descendants, the film briefly ponders whether Cline’s crusade may have had any basis white supremacists (quiverfull ideology, which promotes patriarchal gender ideology and other conservative ideals and laments the decline in European population, certainly seems to have).
The film emphasizes how Cline’s faith, which developed after he accidentally ran over and killed a girl with his car, influenced his practice as a doctor. he had his staff recite prayers together, he advised patients to pray about their treatment options, he decorated his office with Christian sayings, and he had an affinity with the verse Jeremiah 1:5 (“Before I formed you in your mother’s womb I knew you.” “. ), which often appears in material extolling the quiverfull lifestyle. Cline has not publicly acknowledged or commented on the ties to the tradition.
lack of justice for the victims
the main focus of
nuestro padre is to highlight the lack of legal recourse for siblings and their parents. By the time the children of Cline’s former patients began to discover the extent of his crimes in 2015, he was already retired and living in Indianapolis, Indiana. They contacted the Marion County District Attorney’s and Indiana Attorney General’s offices, claiming that Cline’s medical practices amounted to rape, and asked for an investigation, but proceedings were slow, much to their frustration.
while the brothers waited for the authorities to take action, cline lived as a pillar of the community and an elder of his church, performing baptisms in his backyard pool. he also began indirectly threatening the brothers with retaliation if they continued their efforts to press charges against him and go public with his story. The lug nuts disappeared from Ballard’s car one day, he shares in the film. harmon says he found his hard drive suddenly wiped of all mention of cline, and all of his research disappeared overnight. Another sister, Heather Woock, who shared her story publicly, began receiving phone calls asking if she was interested in buying a plot in the cemetery.
When county prosecutors finally investigated cline, the results were disappointing for the brothers, the women he inseminated, and their families. they hoped that an investigation into his medical practices would yield enough evidence to bring charges of rape. However, according to prosecutors at the time, Cline did not commit rape against the women she inseminated with her own sperm without her knowledge or consent.
“I don’t deny that it was a rape, [but] ‘dr. cline committed rape,’ it’s a legal statement that wasn’t true, and I wasn’t going to put it on paper with my signature,” Tim Delaney, who worked in the DA’s office in 2015, says in the film. “The people touched by this they were very excited and had the feeling that I [was there] to offer a catharsis. I wasn’t.”
“I was raped 15 times and I didn’t even know it,” Cline’s former patient Liz White says during her interview, a heartbreaking counterpoint. “There was no consent. he didn’t give me a choice.”
The filmmakers behind our father, including director and producer lucie jourdan, say they were motivated to tell the story of the brothers and their parents to help them condemn cline’s actions in the face of a wide audience when it became clear that the court had ruled.
as is often the case in the us. wow, which is irritating. justice system, to prosecute cline for the crime he had committed, it was necessary to prosecute him for something else. in 2017, he was put on trial for two felony counts of obstruction of justice, for lying during the investigation. charges of obstruction of justice meant that evidence related to cline’s actions toward his former patients was not admitted, even though those actions constituted the injustice for which his brothers and parents were actually seeking restitution. Cline pleaded guilty and received two suspended sentences (meaning he was not in jail) and a $500 fine.
our father tells the story of a rape so apparently novel that until the siblings and parents affected by cline’s crimes took their case to court and pressed for protection, there was no law prohibiting their actions. In 2018, the brothers’ lobby, spearheaded by Matt White and her mother Liz White, contributed to the passage of the Indiana Fertility Fraud Act. There is still no federal law on the subject.
While the story that our father describes is relatively unique, the violation of a person’s ability to choose the circumstances in which they become pregnant, and the lack of legal protection of that ability, does not are. Cline’s decision, apparently motivated by extremist religious beliefs, was made by one person with power, on behalf of the many without. our father finally succeeds in his mission to bring the brothers’ story to light, prophetically emphasizing the tense framework that surrounds it.
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