Donald Cline, an Indiana fertility doctor who used his own sperm to artificially inseminate dozens of patients without their consent, has been confirmed to be the father to at least 48 children born in the 1970s and 1980s
An Indiana fertility doctor who used his own sperm to artificially inseminate his patients without their consent has been confirmed to be the father of at least 48 children, many of whom only recently discovered their true identities.
One of those children, 33-year-old Heather Woock, spoke out about how she learned who her father is in a report published this week by The Atlantic.
Woock, of Indianapolis, said when a stranger reached out to her in August 2017 claiming to be her half sibling, she didn’t believe it.
However, she was disturbed that the mystery person mentioned the name of Dr Donald Cline, the fertility specialist her mother had seen before she was born.
Woock’s mother told her not to worry about it, so she didn’t. Until the stranger kept messaging her, followed by several others claiming to be her half siblings.
They tracked her down on Facebook through her username on the Ancestry.com account she created when her husband gave her a DNA test for Christmas. The DNA test had revealed that she was, in fact, the daughter of Dr Donald Cline.
Her parents, who went to Cline for donor insemination, say they had no idea that he was the person who provided the sperm sample.
DNA tests from services including 23andMe and Ancestry.com confirmed at least 48 children that were fathered by Cline.
The number could likely be much higher considering the number of people who haven’t ever done DNA tests.
Many of Cline’s children have built a community since learning the news, keeping in touch through a Facebook group.
Every holiday season they brace for the reveal of even more siblings through DNA tests given as gifts.
One of Cline’s children, 33-year-old Heather Woock (above), spoke out about how she learned who her father is in a report published this week by the Atlantic
A group of half-siblings fathered by Cline, including Jacoba Ballard, Julie Harmon and Matt White, are pictured during a reunion on April 1, 2018, months after the doctor was convicted
One of the first people to discover that Cline is their father was Jacoba Ballard.
She’d known from a young age that she was conceived via sperm donor, and in 2014 at the age of 33 she began looking for half-siblings who shared that donor.
Ballard signed up for an online forum for adoptees and donor conceived children and quickly located another woman who had been treated by Cline.
She told The Atlantic that as soon as she saw the woman’s Facebook photos, she knew without a doubt that they were related.
‘I was like, Oh my goodness, I think that is my sister,’ Ballard said.
That woman connected her with another woman whose mother had also gone to Cline, and that woman had a sister.
The four women decided to take tests from 23andMe to confirm that they were related.
Those tests revealed that not only were they related to each other, they also had four more half-siblings, bringing the total number to eight.
As the four women continued their search for the biological father that connected them by cross-matching their DNA with public databases to find relatives, a technique that investigators have begun using to identify crime suspects, one name kept cropping up: Cline’s.
The doctor had told his patients that the donors he’d used to inseminate them were medical residents, and that he only used each donor for three successful pregnancies.
However, 23andMe tests contradicted that account by showing that he’d used one donor at least eight times between 1979 and 1986, a much longer period than the average medical residency.
Ultimately, Ballard and her half-siblings tracked down a woman who shared their DNA and said she had a cousin named Donald Cline who practiced medicine in Indianapolis.
It was through that woman that the half-siblings tracked down Cline’s immediate family, who helped them set up a meeting with the doctor in 2016.
During that first family reunion between Cline and six newly discovered half-siblings, the father allegedly admitted to using his own sperm to inseminate some 50 unwitting patients in the 70s and 80s. He said that their medical records had been destroyed years earlier.
The admission ultimately led to a criminal investigation resulting in Cline being charged with lying to investigators about having inseminated the woman.
The now-80-year-old received a one-year suspended sentence in December 2017.
Cline admitted to using his own sperm to inseminate some 50 patients in the 1970s and 1980s when confronted by several of his children in 2016
No other charges were filed against Cline because Indiana law doesn’t specifically prohibit fertility doctors from using their own sperm.
Cline’s conviction has done little to placate his children, who have been left wondering why he did what he did to their mothers.
Fueled by their anguish, Ballard and Cline’s other offspring have been pushing legislation that would make it a crime for doctors to treat patients for infertility by using their own sperm or egg without consent.
‘I feel like our mothers were violated,’ Ballard said of her father in an interview with The Associated Press last year. ‘He has torn all of our lives apart.’
‘He cheated himself out of knowing his children. That’s what we are.’
She said of her half-siblings: ‘We also feel cheated that we didn’t get to know each other growing up.’
Ballard said the only silver lining she’s found is in the camaraderie that’s developed between her and a few of her siblings.
She added that as the popularity of DNA tests grows, they expect to uncover even more half siblings.
Liz White embraces her son Matt, who has been revealed to be one of Cline’s offspring. The mother and her husband had gone to Cline for fertility treatments in 1981
One of the women who was inseminated by Cline more than a dozen times over a five-month period also spoke to the Atlantic in the report this week, saying: ‘I feel like I was raped 15 times.’
White, now 66, had gone to Cline’s office with her husband in 1981, and found him to be a kind, gentle man.
She noted how Cline’s office was decorated with photos of babies he’d helped conceive, a detail that didn’t strike her at the time but is highly unsettling in retrospect.
Cline had opened his practice in 1979, when fertility medicine was quite new and sperm banks didn’t exist and doctors typically hunted down donors themselves.
According to the birth dates of Cline’s youngest-known offspring, the doctor stopped using his own sperm in the late 1980s when sperm banks became more common.
In White’s case, Cline offered to find a medical trainee who resembled her husband so that no one would know that it wasn’t his biological child.
She said he also instructed the couple not to tell anyone that they’d sought help from a fertility specialist.
In 2018, White’s son Matt told AP that he remembers the specific day in September 2016 when the mystery of his sperm donor began to unravel.
It started when Matt read a news report that Cline was facing charges for lying about inseminating his patients.
He found Cline’s address online and recognized it as the location of his mother’s former doctor. Then he Googled the doctor’s name. When a photo popped up, he was stunned: He looked like Cline.
‘It was just too similar to be coincidental,’ he said.
White had long known he was a donor baby, but that day, he had an eerie feeling he was staring at the man who was likely his biological father.
Matt White, who now has children of his own, said he immediately knew Cline was his father when he saw a photo of the doctor in 2016
Around the same time, Julie Harmon saw a TV news story about Cline. She had discovered years earlier that her blood type indicated she was not the child of both her parents. She didn’t follow up to find out why, but the report about Cline, her mother’s fertility doctor, was unnerving.
‘In the pit of my stomach,’ she says, ‘I knew something was wrong.’
The TV story featured Ballard, whom Harmon contacted on Facebook.
‘I looked at pictures of her, and I knew,’ Harmon said. ‘We even part our hair the same.’
These two women and Matt White were in attendance on the day Cline received a one-year suspended sentence for lying to investigators when he denied wrongdoing.
Cline apologized ‘for the pain my actions have caused’ but didn’t specify how often he used his own sperm in procedures.
Cline’s sentencing, though, was not the end of this story. Instead, in an extraordinary epilogue, three one-time strangers – White, Harmon and Ballard – have forged a kinship as brother and sisters, even as they wrestle with the revelation about their identities.
They’ve also reached out to 21 other men and women, all in their 30s, who’ve been identified through DNA tests as half-siblings – evidence, they say, that Cline is likely their father, as well. About a half-dozen of them live in central Indiana.
Many stay in touch through a private Facebook page, and several gathered last fall for a cookout with their spouses, children and three mothers who had been Cline patients.
Others have gone on social outings, shared childhood photos, taken note of similarities and, at times, confided in one another private details of their lives.
‘It’s a very surreal experience,’ White said. ‘I’ve shared personal stories that I haven’t shared with anyone but my wife.
‘You have almost this instant bond with people who are not only part of this horrible situation, but you can relate to them on an intimate level in a way you can’t with anyone else.’