Indianapolis is the capital of the State of Indiana and a city that does not reach a million inhabitants. In the 70s and 80s, with the boom of fertility clinics and new insemination treatments, Indianapolis boasted one of the doctors with the highest rate of successful interventions. His name was Donald Cline and many women from the area passed through his consultation, a hundred of whom – at least – were inseminated with their own semen without their consent. All of them gave birth to babies who shared DNA with their gynecologist.
It sounds like the plot of a horror movie, and that's how the Netflix documentary Our Father deals with it, a meticulous investigation of the scandal that revolutionized public opinion in the US in 2016, and which resulted in a court ruling that did not he has satisfied his victims. They have found in front of director Lucie Jordan's cameras a safe space to tell what they were not allowed to say in the trial. He also bullied them for years so they wouldn't talk.
"When you receive a new brother alert, the first thing you think is: please, don't go out with him. But surely one day it will happen," says one of Cline's 94 biological daughters. Those were the official accounts at the time of the recording of the documentary, but they warn that he is an accountant who continues to rise, as he does during the hour and a half that the film lasts.
"Almost all of us live within a radius of 40 kilometers from Dr. Cline's house and from each other," reveals Jacoba Ballard, the first victim who was aware of the plot and pulled the thread. "I walk down the street and think that I can be related to anyone." She was the true leader of the investigation while the courts and the media did not want to listen to her. When it all started, there were "only" eight brothers. That number has been multiplied by eleven.
Jacoba Ballard is the backbone that holds the story against Dr. Cline. She was born blonde, pale, and blue-eyed into a family recognizable by her dark eyes and black hair. Since she was little, she was obsessed with these physiological differences until, at the age of 18, her mother recognized that she had been conceived by artificial insemination and that the sperm belonged to an unknown donor, since her father was sterile. Her desire to discover the man with whom she shared DNA led her to take a test in 2014 that did not reveal her identity, but she did have seven other children. "There were eight of us, what was happening? Because my mother was told that they never used the donor more than three times," Jacoba wonders.
It was the policy of the Cline clinic and many others. "It was the ideal, because with more, by statistics, they could get married between two brothers," explains the nurse who worked as an assistant during those years in the consultation. She also did not know what happened when the gynecologist closed the door and went to another room to look for semen samples.
"I was the only one in the room. As Cline closed the door, undressed and put my feet in the stirrups, he was ejaculating in another room. It's disgusting. When we got my son's DNA results my words were: ' He raped me 15 times and I didn't even know it,'" says through tears one of the women who was inseminated in the 70s. Another patient brought her husband's sperm, but Don Cline threw it away without telling her to insert his own. "It gives me goosebumps to think that my father's sample ended up in the trash," says the doctor's biological daughter.
When the case finally went to trial in 2016, the children of the women who were victims of this insemination asked that he be charged with sexual assault. The lawyer rejected it because there was no evidence and because the women consented to be inseminated. "It's rape, but not in the eyes of the law," he told them. "A doctor can jerk off and put her semen in the vagina of a woman, a patient who has not consented to it, and it is not considered a sexual assault," laments Jacoba.
The court only sentenced him for obstruction of justice and imposed a fine of 500 euros, one year of probation and the loss of his medical license, although at that time he had already been retired for several years. He was penalized for destroying the records, but he did not pay to "donate" his sperm despite suffering from an autoimmune disease that some of the 94 people carrying his DNA have inherited. Nor for cheating on those hundred women.
This matter especially scaled the director of the documentary. "What bothered me so much at first was the story that Cline 'donated' her sample," he explains. Lucie Jordan in an interview. "I want him to know immediately what it means to 'donate a sample': to have an erection, to masturbate and to immediately introduce it to his patients. How is that not considered sexual assault?", asks the filmmaker. For her, Cline and the rest of the infertility expert doctors who repeated the practice – at least 44 other cases have been known – “had a God complex”. "She wanted a child and I gave it to her," Cline justified at trial.
Cline's office was awash with crucifixes, scriptures, and ultra-Catholic slogans. In her investigation, Jacoba Ballard discovered that in 1963 she ran over a four-year-old girl. "After that she was traumatized and became a religious fanatic," says one of her former friends and colleague. He became a very active member of her Church, doing baptisms at her home and preaching anywhere, including her clinic.
Of all the scriptures, Jeremiah 1:5 was his favorite verse: "Before I formed you in your mother's womb, I already knew you." She had it printed at the top of the table where he inseminated women. Some of her biological children found a link between Cline and the ultra-religious Quiverfall sect, which advocates turning the Bible into civil law, having as many children as possible to involve them in the political and religious life of society, and preserving the white race. .
"Most of us have blonde hair and blue eyes. I hate to say it, but it seems like we're part of the perfect Aryan clan. It's disgusting," says Jacoba. Early in the investigation, before the case hit the media, she and seven other half-siblings met with Cline, who inquired about their names, ages and professions: "It seemed like she was classifying us." "It gives me chills to think that the doctor who created me is a racist fanatic who used my mother as a vessel."
None of this has been proven, so Dr. Cline's intentions in inseminating a hundred women with his sperm are known only to him. "My great hope is that there is a lawyer who sees the documentary and perceives that there are large gaps," said the director. The victims, genetic children and women assaulted by the doctor, continue to seek justice. For now, the media impact of the case has made it a crime in Texas and Indiana for gynecologists to inseminate their patients with their sperm. The next step is for the US to declare it illegal throughout the country. "It's our goal."