What Happened To Dr. Donald Cline From Netflix's Our Father?

Infertility is a devastating thing to experience for anyone who dreams of having a baby. For many people, IVF — or in vitro fertilization — has helped the dream of becoming a parent come true, per the National Center for Biotechnology Information. When seeking medical help like IVF treatment, those struggling with infertility issues trust their doctor to have their best interests in mind. According to the Netflix documentary, "Our Father," that isn't always the case. The results can be truly horrific.

"Our Father" tells the story of Dr. Donald Cline. Cline was a successful fertility doctor who practiced medicine in Indiana, providing treatments such as IVF for hundreds if not thousands of patients, according to IndyStar. In 2014, one child who was born from Dr. Cline's treatment, named Jacoba Ballard, noticed something amiss in her DNA test results. As she began to investigate, Ballard uncovered a trail of lies and other unusual test results that all lead directly back to Cline's clinic. When Dr. Cline was finally confronted with what he had done, the truth was revealed: the women who'd sought fertility treatment from Dr. Cline got something different from what they had bargained for.

A revolutionary form of fertility treatment

Per Mayo Clinic, in vitro fertilization, or IVF is not just one form of treatment, but instead, a series of procedures to successfully treat infertility. During IVF, eggs are harvested from the ovaries of a woman. Those eggs are then inseminated by semen in a test tube. Sometimes that sperm comes from the woman's partner or a trusted donor. Other times the sperm or egg donor remains anonymous. Once those eggs are successfully fertilized, the embryo is most often transferred back into the mother's uterus where it develops. From there, new mothers often give birth as they typically would. Depending on the infertility issue at hand, though, an IVF embryo may instead be implanted in a surrogate's uterus. 

According to Allied Market Research, as IVF treatments have grown increasingly common, so, too has the demand for donated sperm. Ultimately regulated by The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), sperm banks screen donors based on age and medical history. Because of this, when women and couples who need donated semen turn to a doctor for help, they have every reason to think what they get can be trusted. As the story of Dr. Cline proves, though, that wasn't always the case.

Indianapolis' most trusted fertility doctor

In 1979, when Dr. Donald Cline went into practice the sperm donor industry was less well regulated and the field of fertility treatment was only just then emerging. Still, numerous doctors performed artificial insemination at the time with sperm most often sourced on their own. Often, that semen was donated by young medical students. With a proven track record and a kindly demeanor, Cline's patients believed they had finally found someone who could help them. 

One of Cline's patients from that time named Liz White had tried everything to have a baby, with no success. As a last resort, she turned to Dr. Cline who had already established himself as the Indianapolis area's leading authority on fertility treatment. He offered the Cline family IVF, but instead of using frozen sperm, as White had tried in the past with the help of a different doctor, this time the sperm would be fresh. Thanks to Cline, the White family finally had their baby, per The Atlantic.

Unusual DNA test results

Like many people, in 2014 Jacoba Ballard turned to a commercial DNA testing service to explore her own genealogy. Ballard was aware she was born through IVF and she expected to find a few donor half-siblings in her results. The doctor who had helped Ballard's mother conceive was none other than Dr. Cline. Nevertheless, Ballard was surprised when she found seven donor half-siblings. And to make matters worse, Ballard was shocked by what the genealogy test results revealed about her first cousin. The person that Ballard and her first cousin matched with was Dr. Cline. 

Through further investigation, Ballard uncovered nearly 50 half siblings. What was common among all of them was that their mothers had sought fertility treatment from Cline. Finally confronted, Cline admitted the truth: the sperm he'd used in his procedures was not safely and ethically sourced from medical students like he claimed. Given the number of IVF treatments performed by Dr. Cline there's reason to believe that 50 children could be only the start. The sperm he had impregnated these women with was his own, as Indystar explains.

Indiana's fertility fraud bill

As The Atlantic reports, when Dr. Cline's lengthy history of fraud was revealed, he was put under criminal investigation. What exactly, though, could he be charged with? What Cline had done did not exactly fit the definition of rape. And with no law on the books in Indiana — or in a number of other states, it turns out — to prohibit a doctor from doing just what Cline did, it looked like he might get away with it. According to one survey in fact, 2% of all fertility doctors from Cline's generation admit to using their own sperm early on in their career (via The Atlantic). Whether or not their patients knew is unclear. Given the age of most of Cline's offspring, he, too, seems to have stopped the practice himself as sperm donor banks became common.

What Dr. Cline would eventually be charged with is obstruction of justice. When notified that an investigation was underway he at first denied the charges. Once a DNA sample proved that he was, in fact, the sperm-donor father of at least 50 children, the case was closed. That year, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb (pictured) signed Indiana's Fertility Fraud Bill into law. In the wording, medical professionals were prohibited from "introducing any reproductive material as well as medications or procedures to the patient without their full knowledge or consent" (via USA Projects). Today, only seven states have similar laws now on their books, although many more states may soon join that list, as The New York Times reports.

What happened to Dr. Cline?

At the time that Dr. Cline pleaded guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice in the case brought against him; he had been five years retired from medicine. Nevertheless, he was given a one-year suspended prison sentence and his medical license was permanently revoked. Dr. Cline would never spend any time in prison. At the time of this writing, little is known about the current whereabouts of Dr. Cline, but he's believed to still be alive. Per The Atlantic, not all of Dr. Cline's patients spoke out against him, and some voiced their support. As one former patient, who was never able to conceive under his treatment, wrote (via The Atlantic) Dr. Cline, "always put his patients first."

Regardless of Cline's conviction for obstruction of justice, at least one person born from Cline's fraud considers what he did to be rape. Jacoba Ballard, whose genealogical DNA test helped Cline's malfeasance come to light, said (via Indystar) "He violated our mothers. That was rape." From May 11, 2022, the Netflix documentary "Our Father" is available to stream on Netflix.