Liz White believed for 35 years that the biological father of her son was an anonymous but generous medical resident who had donated sperm so she and her husband could become parents. But then she discovered that the sperm had come not from a stranger but from the fertility doctor who had inseminated her.
Not only that but her son Matt would learn over the next few years that he had as many as 50 half-siblings, most of whose mothers also had sought medical help from the same doctor, Dr. Donald Cline.
Since learning of the deception, the Whites and many other children and former patients of Cline have banded together to try to change Indiana law to protect others from doctors who commit fertility fraud. Then they moved one step closer to their goal when the Indiana Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously on Senate Bill 174, which would make it possible to bring civil action against a doctor up to five years after a person learns of the deceit. But the measure as passed did not go as far as proponents would have liked. Before passage, the committee OK'd an amendment to remove any mention of criminal charges from the bill. In White’s eyes, the 15 times that Cline inseminated her from 1981 through 1982 constituted nothing less than sexual assault. Had she known that Cline planned to use his own sperm to help her conceive a child, she would have refused, she said. She was 29 at the time and Cline at 42 was an old man to her. “For me as a person, I was raped 15 times and didn’t even know it,” she said. “He was an old man to me. I did not want his semen. I don’t care how it came into my body. It was against my knowledge. It was against my consent.” Cline told her that he would use fresh sperm from a young donor doctor. He promised he would use that donor for no more than three pregnancies. Whenever she visited his office, he would be the only person there.
“Our goal is to establish Cline’s egregious behavior as a criminal law,” she said. “It began as a medical procedure. … It radically changed to a sexually deviant behavior.” Because Cline lied during an investigation of the family's complaint about his behavior, the Marion County prosecutor's office charged him with obstruction of justice. In December 2017, Cline pleaded guilty to the charges in Marion Superior Court. Close to 80 at the time, Cline received a suspended one-year sentence and no jail time.
As passed, the fertility fraud legislation would not criminalize actions such as Cline’s. After hearing searing testimony from White and one of the children Cline fathered, some committee members said they wanted to restore the criminal charges to the legislation. Committee chairman Randall Head, said that he had given his word to edit the mention of all criminal elements when the bill was moved from the Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law to his purview. Similar legislation proposed in last year’s session languished last year in that committee. “The choice was no bill or something, and I chose something,” Head said.
Cline’s misdeeds came to light through home genetic testing. A few of the children he fathered discovered one another through such sites. The eight half-siblings who initially connected were suspicious of Cline and grew more so after those sites linked genetically to one of Cline’s cousins. As their story made headlines, more half siblings have come forward. Today, one of those half-siblings, Jacoba Ballard, told the committee she has 46 half-siblings who have been identified. Many fear that they or their children could become unknowingly romantically entangled with biological relatives. “I am asking you to put yourself in the shoes of any one of us, learning that you were not a donor-conceived child but a doctor-conceived child,” Ballard said. “How do we define ourselves when you know you are the product of an immoral and unethical procedure that was hidden from our parents!”
Photo: Alyssa Schukar/AP
Based on The Atlantic