By now many of you reading this have likely heard the buzz surrounding Netflix’s recent true crime documentary, Our Father. Released in May of 2022, this documentary was produced by Blumhouse. If that name sounds familiar to you, it may be because Blumhouse is the film and television company most widely known for producing spine-chilling horror movies such as Insidious, Paranormal Activity, and The Purge. However, when it comes to Our Father, the horrors within are all too real.

So, who is this Netflix fertility doctor everyone is talking about?

The documentary centers around Dr. Donald Cline, a well-known fertility specialist whose practice was based in Indianapolis, Indiana starting in the 1970s. Multiple victims of Cline express in the documentary that they went to Dr. Cline because he was supposed to be the best of the best and that his reputation gave them hope.

The case began to unravel when Jacoba Ballard, or “Sibling #1”, found out at age 10 that she was conceived using donor sperm. Her mother, Debbie Pierce, had shared this information with Jacoba as a child because Jacoba had become convinced that she was adopted due to her blue eyes and blonde hair, which differed from the rest of her family. Debbie and her husband had gone to Dr. Cline and were told that donor sperm would be their best chance of growing their family. Prior to the procedure, Dr. Cline assured Debbie that no donor was ever used more than three times.

still of netflix's our father documentary about dr donald cline fertility doctorAs an adult, Jacoba began to wonder if she had one or two siblings. Initially, she called Dr. Cline himself. Cline told Jacoba that he could not provide her with the donor’s information, and even if he could, her mother’s records had been destroyed. In the fall of 2014, with new resources available such as 23 and Me, Jacoba took a DNA test. She was shocked when the results returned 7 siblings. Little did she know, this number would only continue to grow in the coming years. As of writing this, there are 94 known biological children of Donald Cline due to decades of fertility fraud.  

As the investigation into Cline’s fertility fraud came to be exposed, it was found that the “donor sperm” used was actually Cline’s own sperm – and at that time, only fresh sperm was used. This means that while his patients were undressing and putting on their gowns in the procedure room, Dr. Cline was elsewhere in the clinic ejaculating. 

But Cline’s patients using donor sperm were not the only victims - there were even cases such as Julie Harmon, or “Sibling #14”, who discovered that Cline’s sperm was used in the place of her own father’s. “It just completely washes away your identity,” says Julie. “You really have no idea who you are anymore.” One of the most harrowing moments in the documentary comes when Jacoba states that most of the known siblings live within a 25-mile radius of each other.

The horrors in this documentary are vile and unimaginable, so keep your own self-care at the top of your mind should you choose to view it. After several viewings, what strikes me the most is the issue of consent. As someone who has spent years in the world of fertility clinics and treatments, the violation that Cline’s victims experienced is simply agonizing to imagine. “I was raped 15 times and didn’t even know it,” former patient Liz White says during her interview. “There was no consent. He didn’t give me a choice.”

collage of all the people dr donald cline fatheredI think of the countless consent forms I’ve had to sign throughout my journey, and the trust I’ve had to give to my doctors, nurses, and even embryologists. When you are in the trenches of infertility, such a vulnerable and sometimes downright scary experience, you have every right to expect that your care team will honor and respect every one of those signed consents down to the letter and provide you with information that is honest.

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As the documentary begins to come to a close, the living nightmare situation that Cline’s victims find themselves in is made worse by the revelation that Cline entirely avoided jail time for these horrendous acts. As the attorney general determined that he could not be charged with rape, and there were no laws in Indiana prohibiting a fertility doctor from using his own sperm as donor sperm, Cline was instead only given a $500 fine and had his medical license permanently revoked for two counts of obstruction of justice. The latter being an entirely meaningless punishment considering that Cline had retired eight years prior. 

While the story Our Father depicts is uncommon, it shines a necessary light on the Cline siblings’ story as well as the lack of state and federal laws and regulations surrounding fertility fraud. Cline’s victims – not just the patients, not just the 94 (and counting) siblings, but also their own families – certainly deserve a greater justice than what has been served thus far. But, as Sibling #1 Jacoba Ballard declares, they won’t stop fighting.

Lindsey Williams is a library worker and writer who lives in Arizona with her husband and their dog, Peaches. After 5 years of trying to conceive with dual-factor infertility, she is currently expecting her first child conceived with the help of IVF.