Fertility doctor fathered 48 children without patients' consent

Fertility doctor fathered 48 children without patients' consent

A fertility doctor from Indiana has been accused of using his own sperm to artificially inseminate patients over a number of decades without their consent. He has now been confirmed to be the father of at least 48 children, but the specifics of the law means he technically didn't commit a crime.

One of these newly-discovered children, the 33-year-old Heather Woock, spoke about what it was like to make the discovery in a report published this week by The Atlantic. After she had taken a DNA test on Ancestry.com in 2017, a stranger reached out, claiming to be her half-sibling. Soon, messages started arriving from others, all of which had been conceived in the same fertility clinic.

Woock's parents had gone to Dr. Donald Cline for insemination from a donor, but didn't know it was actually his sperm that he used. Now, tests from various DNA services have confirmed at least 48 children have been fathered by this doctor, though the number could be even higher - as these only include those who have done DNA tests.

Another woman who discovered this same truth is Jacoba Ballard. In 2014, she began looking for those that had the same biological father, and came across a woman who had also been treated by Cline. Speaking to The Atantic, she said that she knew they were related as soon as she saw their Facebook photos. "I was like, Oh my goodness, I think that is my sister," Ballard said.

After they met, the pair found more who had discovered that they had the same father, their mothers all going to Cline's clinic. After cross-matching their DNA with public databases, the prime suspect became Cline himself.

The doctor told his patients that he'd used sperm donated by medical residents, and that he only used each donor for three pregnancies each. However, tests revealed that he'd used one donor at least eight times between 1979 and 1986 - a much longer period than the usual medical residency.

Ballard and her half-siblings tracked down Cline's family, and met with the doctor in 2016. It was here that he allegedly admitted to using his own sperm to inseminate around 50 unwitting patients during the 70s and 80s. This soon led to a criminal investigation, resulting in Cline being charged with two counts of obstruction of justice during the investigation.

The 80-year-old received a year suspended sentence in December 2017, but there were no other charges filed against him because law in the state doesn't specifically prohibit fertility doctors from using their own sperm in this procedure. Ballard and her other half-siblings have since been campaigning to have the legislation changed to make this a crime.

donald cline fertility clinic Matthew White Credit: Getty / The Washington Post

"I feel like our mothers were violated, he has torn all of our lives apart," Ballard said in an interview with The Associated Press last year. "He cheated himself out of knowing his children. That's what we are."

One woman, who was inseminated by Cline over a dozen times over a five-month period, told the Atlantic: "I feel like I was raped 15 times." She noted how the doctor's office was decorated with photos of the babies he'd helped to conceive, a detail that struck her as far more unsettling once she learned the truth.