Matt White, Jacoba Ballard and Heather Woock all grew up in or around Indianapolis, Indiana, never having met one another and never imagining that they might share the same biological father. From 2014 to 2016, all three were in their 30s and all individually decided to partake in the recent popularity of DNA test kits. This led them to discover their shocking biological connection. After a series of messages and meetups with others who shared the same DNA, the half-siblings gradually discovered a whole circle of more than 50 people who share half of their genetic makeup. The uniting parent? Donald Cline, a fertility doctor who secretly used his own sperm to impregnate patients seeking his counsel during the 1970s and 80s.
All the mothers of the new half-siblings admitted that they had gone to Cline with qualms related to infertility, but Cline had assured his patients that they would be inseminated with sperm from anonymous donors. As White and others continued doing research into their shocking discovery, they discovered that Cline’s practice was built on a foundation of outright lies. Cline told his patients that his donors were medical residents and that each donor would father only three pregnancies. However, genetic testing websites revealed that some donors had been used as many as eight times, with birth years spanning 1979 to 1986, a much wider range than the standard two- to three-year medical residency. The only plausible explanation for all these births by the same sperm had to be that Cline himself was the father.
In response to uncovering Cline’s deceitful actions, White, Ballard and others set up a meeting with the retired doctor. According to an article in The Atlantic, Ballard remembers sitting across from “her biological father, but he radiated no paternal warmth,” leading her to “[struggle] with what it meant, existentially, to have inherited the DNA of a man who would lie to his patients and abuse his position as a doctor.” Soon after this meeting, a group of the half-siblings, along with some of their mothers, sought to open a criminal case against Cline. But, because of Indiana laws, Cline wasn’t charged with criminal deception, rape or battery with bodily waste. In fact, his only charge was for obstruction of justice after he lied to the attorney general’s office by claiming that he had never used his own sperm, an assertion easy to disprove with all of the DNA evidence.
Infuriated by Indiana’s lack of a law that deems it illegal for a doctor to use his own sperm with his patients, White and others began lobbying the Indiana government. Now, three years after White took his DNA test in 2016, Indiana’s governor signed the first bill of its kind into law, making fertility fraud a felony. While the law does not apply retroactively, thus sheltering Cline from any further legal action, White, quoted in an article in The Atlantic noted, “We got this law to protect people more so going forward into the future.”
As DNA test kits become more widespread, cases of fertility fraud have become quite common. In Texas, Eve Wiley’s realization that her mother’s doctor had lied about the source of donated sperm led Wiley to petition Texas lawmakers to deem fertility fraud a form of criminal sexual assault. The bill, which was approved by the state senate in April, now awaits review in the Texas House of Representatives. If passed, the law will join the ranks of Indiana’s new law and California’s general fertility-fraud law.