JUNE 3, 2022
- “Our Father” tells the story of a fertility doctor who used his own sperm to impregnate patients.
- Dr. Donald Cline has fathered at least 94 children.
Whenever Jacoba Ballard walks around her small town, she scans the faces of passersby to see if they share her features.
The 41-year-old has 93 known half-siblings, but she suspects there are many more.
“It’s just common for me to pass people on the street, and I’ll look at them,” she said in the Netflix film “Our Father.” She said she studies their characteristics and thinks, “You could be related to me.”
Ballard, who performed a home DNA test in 2014, said she was shocked to discover that her biological father was Dr. Donald Cline, the prominent fertility specialist who treated her mom in 1979.
Ballard, who initially found seven DNA matches at first, launched an investigation into Cline’s actions. Over the past eight years, she has traced scores of his children. Each of them used DNA tests to determine whether the medical professional had sired them, too.
“It’s disgusting,” Ballard said in “Our Father,” adding, “He used my mom as a pawn, and he did it over and over again.”
Cline is among a number of fertility doctors known to have secretly impregnated their patients
Cline’s case is believed to be one of the most extreme examples of a physician using his own sperm to impregnate women without their knowledge or consent.
He told Ballard’s mother, Debbie, that he’d use donor sperm to inseminate her because her spouse was infertile. He told other patients that he’d use their husbands’ sperm, the film showed.
Instead, he would go into his office and masturbate while the women waited in the examination room. Next, he would secretly inject his sperm into the uterus of the future mother.
Ballard decided to track down as many of her half-siblings as possible. She messaged them on Facebook after their names showed up on sites such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com. The case was publicized in the media, and Ballard was contacted by other members of the family.
“I dread every new match that comes, but they keep coming,” Ballard, of Reelsville, Indiana, said in the Netflix film, which is part documentary and part dramatization. Referencing the times she checks her computer, she added, “You never know the day you’re going to wake up and they will be there.”
The doctor begged Ballard to keep quiet about his actions
Ballard spoke with Cline on the phone and recorded their conversations. Excerpts from the calls are played in “Our Father,” and Ballard said they proved that Cline had no remorse.
In one of their interactions, the doctor, who is now retired, begged Ballard to stop cooperating with the media. He said his marriage would “be over” if the attention continued, and that he was “going to be hurt badly.”
In “Our Father,” Ballard said she wouldn’t be silenced: “Bring it on because I’m going to fight you.”
The half-siblings lobbied the Indiana attorney general to take action. But to their dismay, prosecutors said Cline could not be charged with sexual assault or battery. They said no crime related to the insemination of unsuspecting patients.
Cline was investigated nonetheless. A DNA test showed that he was more than 99 percent likely to be the children’s father. He denied paternity.
He was eventually charged with two counts of obstruction of justice for lying to the AG’s office. He pleaded guilty at first before admitting his guilt in court in December 2017.
Cline was fined $500, and his one-year prison sentence was suspended because of his age and people who defended his character before the judge.
In the film, a group of half-siblings — who are among Cline’s 94 known children — speculate about his motives. They wonder if they stemmed from some kind of religious calling to sire hundreds of children.
Ballard has since become an advocate for survivors of fertility fraud. The rise in the popularity of DNA testing has helped pinpoint some 44 physicians who abused their position to inject unwitting patients with their sperm.
Indiana, Kentucky, and Texas have ruled the practice illegal, but there is no federal law. And Ballard said she won’t rest until it is.
In the last of her interviews in “Our Father,” she said about her crusade, “I will do this until the day I fucking die.”