The Morrigan, Contributing Editor
Dir. Lucie Jourdan (2022)
Confident, self-assured, church Elder, arrogant, philanthropist, evil. These are the words used to describe Dr. Donald Cline in the Netflix documentary, Our Father. This one is jaw dropping and downright disgusting. He was once called the "best of the best". I call him the worst of the worst.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
In 1979, Debbie Piece was desperate to have a child because her husband wasn't able to. Dr. Donald Cline, was the "best of the best" of infertility doctors: he was the only one doing live sperm inseminations, he made several reproductive breakthroughs, and was at the top of his field. He told Debbie that he would use medical students' sperm to inseminate her, finding a donor who looked like her and her husband. Her daughter, Jacoba was born and Debbie loved her without reservation. In the late 90's, Jacoba was interested in seeing if she had any half siblings. That's where her nightmare began.
In 2014, 23 and Me was a popular DNA test that was used not only to find genealogy, but also potential familial matches. Jacoba got her results, and found out that she had 7 siblings, even though Jocobas mother was told the donor sperm was never used more than 3 times. The siblings got together and tried to work out the family tree. After contact with a second cousin, it was revealed that Dr. Cline might actually be the father to all of them. Jacoba filed a complaint with the Indiana District Attorney General's office, with no result and Jacoba reached out to a reporter, Angela Ganote, who picked up her story, saying that she believed that a doctor had inseminated a number of women with his own sperm. Angela Ganote reached out to Dr. Cline who denied being the father and refused to test his own DNA to disprove (or prove) that he wasn't the father. After refusing to participate, one of Jacoba's half siblings reached out to Dr. Cline's biological children who confirmed that he did use his own sperm for inseminations, but only when there was no other sperm available, and he could be the biological father to no more than 10 children.
Julie Harmon was watching the news and saw the story about Jacoba and her half- siblings. Her husband commented that she looked a lot like Jacoba. Julie's mother, Dianna Kiesler, said that there was no way this would pertain to her because she was inseminated with her husband's sperm. Julie wasn't convinced, and took the 23 and Me test and it confirmed that Julie was in fact Jacoba's half sister. Dianna and her husband were devastated, her husband saying, "he's taken everything from us."
The siblings were able to get a meeting with Dr. Cline and he listened and took notes, seemingly ranking them, but wholly unhelpful. When one of the siblings asked why, he simply stated that he was trying to help, and that there could be no more than 15 total siblings.
Liz White was a young woman dealing with infertility, and she saw Dr. Cline. As Liz (or any patient) would be in the exam room changing into a gown, Dr. Cline would be in another room, ejaculating. He would then collect his semen and place it into the woman. When her son Matt's DNA came back as a match, Liz commented, "I was raped 15 times and I didn't even know it. Dr. Cline's former partner, Dr. Robert Colver said that Dr. Cline could've easily gone to the back room, collected his specimen, and no one would know where the specimen had come from. Both Dr. Colver and Jan Shore, RN, Dr. Cline and Dr. Colver's long-time nurse, maintain they had no idea what Dr. Cline was doing.
Dr. Cline threatened the news station that Angela Ganote worked for, and demanded for her to kill the story. Dr. Cline then called Jacoba and asked her to not tell her story on tv because it was causing harm to him and would embarrass him and his wife. Instead of backing down, Jacoba dug her heels in farther. She contact the District Attorney's office again, and still got no response, Jacoba started investigating Dr. Cline herself. She realized that he was trying to cover up the fact that there were more children than he had previously disclosed. The number was now up to 33.
In 1963, Dr. Cline hit a 4 year old girl with his car, killing her. It's said this is when he changed his life and found God. He became a very spiritual man. He had religious imagery in his office, he often prayed before procedures, and considered himself a man of God. On a phone call with Jacoba, he said that his favorite Bible verse was Jeremiah 1:5, "Before I formed you in your mother's womb I knew you." Which leads the siblings to be assured that he knew exactly what he was doing. They also found out he may have been part of "Quiverfull", which demands it's followers have as many children as possible. They also theorized that he was trying to make an Arian race, of blonde haired blue-eyed children, which almost all of the siblings have. While there are many theories, none have been confirmed.
Tim Delaney, now former Prosecutor for Marion County, finally looked at the Cline case. He was adamant that there was no crime committed. He contends that there was a sexual violation, but it wasn't legally sexual violation. Jacoba asks him if she spit in his face would it be battery? The answer is yes, but for Dr. Cline, who ejaculated and then puts his sperm into his patient without consent, it wouldn't be battery. The rape laws in Indiana are such that it's harder to make a case for rape, let alone forcible touching, without violence, and it could be argued that because the women were willingly being inseminated, it wasn't without consent. Tim Delaney was finally able to make a case against Dr. Cline when it was found out that he had lied to the District Attorney's office and emphatically denied fathering these children. After a DNA test conducted by the Prosecutors office, he was charged with two counts of felony obstruction of justice. During the victim impact statement, Jacoba tried to tell her story at the sentencing, but she could only limit it to who his statements actually damaged (the State), meaning none of his past acts could be spoken of, including the numerous children and lies to women trying to have a family. The judge was sympathetic toward him and was literally teary as she spoke to him about how much his family loved him. He pled guilty, and was sentenced to two complete suspended sentences and a $500 fine.
At the time of the documentary, there are 94 known siblings, most with the same auto-immune diseases. His sperm wouldn't even have been allowed to be used as a donor because of his own auto-immune diseases. Most of the siblings live in a 25 mile radius of each other. Some have coached each other's children, their kids play together, they're almost all connected in some way, even if only peripherally. They've had to talk to their children about potentially dating, so they don't date their cousins. In 2018, the mothers and siblings were successful in passing legislation in Indiana making elicit donor insemination illegal. There is current federal law. Because of DNA testing kits like 23 and Me, 44 more doctors have been found to have used their own sperm to inseminate their patients, although Cline is still the worst.