Is Our Father based on a true story?
As we know, Netflix's Our Father is in fact based on a very true story. According to the synopsis, provided by the streaming giant, the doco is set to follow Jacoba Ballard, who was an only child conceived through a sperm donor.
Dreaming of having a sibling, she took an at-home DNA test which led her to the discovery that she had seven siblings, which "defied best practices in fertility medicine".
"As the group set out to learn more about their curious family tree, they soon discovered the sickening truth: Their parents’ fertility doctor had been inseminating his patients with his own sperm—without their knowledge or consent," the synopsis reads.
"As Ballard and her newfound siblings realised they’ve barely begun to untangle his dark web of deceit, their pursuit of justice lies at the heart of this profoundly unsettling story about an unimaginable breach of trust.”
While, yes, there are likely to be several parts of the documentary that may be dramatised for entertainment value, it's safe to assume that its bones and structure will be accurate to real life events.
According to The Atlantic, Dr. Cline opened his own fertility clinic in Indiana in 1979. While running the business, he was secretly using his own sperm when impregnating women who were looking to conceive via artificial insemination. Dr. Cline was claiming that the donations were from medical residents, instead of confessing they were his. As far as we know, the disgraced doctor has fathered a minimum of 50 children throughout the '70s and '80s.
But how did anyone find out about his wrongdoings? Well, once those conceived via his practice began looking into their own DNA, they began to connect the dots through Cline's DNA and social media, which helped many to discover they have a plethora of half siblings.
As per The Atlantic, a 2019 report explained how Dr. Cline's offspring all learned of their origins, with Ballard being the first. Wanting to discover more about her history, she registered herself in an online forum for adoptees and donor-conceived children, where she met a woman whose mother was a patient of Dr. Cline. One test later and the pair found out that they're half sisters, and not long after, they were able to confirm more matches.
In fact, some of Dr. Cline's offspring not only remembered that they found out about their father through DNA kits, but revealed that when they "opened up Ancestry, I had over 3,000 hits".
Where Is Dr. Donald Cline now?
When Dr. Cline's heinous actions were discovered, the state of Indiana had no state or federal law that could criminalise what he had done. In fact, it wasn't until 2017 that Dr. Cline had to pay for his crimes. As per Netflix, he retired from medicine in 2009, and eight years later, he was convicted of two felony counts for obstructing the investigation and for lying to investigators about using his own sperm.
By 2018, Cline surrendered his license to the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana, the same board who voted to prohibit him from ever attempting to reinstate his license again.
As a result of his crimes, he was given a one-year suspended sentence for the two counts of obstruction of justice. Unfortunately, no other charges were laid against him because state law never prohibited fertility doctors from using their own specimen. By 2019, Indiana became the first state in the U.S. to pass legislation that makes it a criminal offence for fertility doctors to use their own sperm without their patient's consent.
Matt White, one of the children that Dr. Cline created, was one of those who helped get the bill passed.
“We were told there were no laws to charge Cline or others that would engage in similar deplorable actions and the only thing to do would be to create a law. Should this issue arise again in the future, the patients and children are protected,” White told WRTV Indianapolis.
“This was a team effort full of a lot of sacrifice, dedication, and persistence. We educated Indiana’s legislators, got our bill passed, and not going to stop.”
Currently, Dr. Cline's whereabouts are not known.
Our Father will air on Netflix on May 11, 2022. You can watch Our Father on Netflix by logging in or signing up here.
If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service or contact Full Stop Australia.