At least 48 people were left in shock after finding out that they all had the same father: a fertility doctor in Indiana who had used his own sperm to inseminate their mothers without consent.
Most of them only recently found out the truth, thanks to DNA testing kits that were given out as Christmas gifts.
One of them is 33-year-old Heather Woock, who lives in Indianapolis. She told The Atlantic that a stranger reached out to her in August 2017 claiming to be a half-sibling. She didn’t believe it but became troubled when the person mentioned the name of Dr. Donald Cline, her mother’s fertility specialist.
Although Woock’s mother told her not to worry about it, the stranger and several other people who also claimed to be her half-siblings kept messaging her. Heather’s husband gave her a DNA test for Christmas and she created an account in Ancestry.com that helped her half-siblings track her down in Facebook.
Heather’s parents say that they had no idea that Cline himself was the sperm donor.
Thanks to DNA tests from services such as 23and Me and Ancestry.com, at least 48 children have discovered that Cline is their father. The number could be higher since there are many people who have never taken a DNA test.
Majority of Cline’s children have formed a community since learning the truth and keep in touch via a Facebook group. Since most amateur DNA tests are given as holiday gifts, they brace for each holiday season in case another half-sibling turns up.
Cline had told his patients that the donors were medical residents and that each donor’s sperm was only used for three successful pregnancies.
But 23andMe tests found that Cline had used one donor at least eight times between 1979 and 1986 which is much longer than the average medical residency.
Cline started his practice in 1979 when fertility medicine was still in its infancy and sperm banks didn’t even exist yet. During those times, doctors usually looked for donors themselves.
Based on the birth dates of Cline’s youngest-known offspring, he stopped using his own sperm by the late 1980’s when sperm banks became more widespread.
Jacoba Ballard was one of the first to find out that Cline is her father back in 2014. Her investigations led her to several other half-siblings. Teaming up with them, they eventually tracked down a woman who shared their DNA and mentioned that she has a cousin named Donald Cline who practiced medicine in Indianapolis.
Through that woman, they tracked down Cline’s immediate family who then helped them set up a meeting with him in 2016.
At that reunion, there were only six newly discovered half-siblings and Cline admitted using his own sperm on some 50 clueless patients in the 70’s and 80’s. He added that their medical records had been destroyed years earlier.
His admission eventually resulted in a criminal investigation where Cline was charged for lying to investigators about having inseminated a woman. No other charges were filed because Indiana law doesn’t specifically ban fertility doctors from using their own sperm.
Cline, who is now 80, got a one-year suspended sentence in December 2017.
The conviction has done little to appease his children, however, who have always wondered why he did it in the first place.
Now Ballard and her other half-siblings are pushing for legislation that would criminalize the act of fertility doctors using their own sperm or egg on their patients without consent.
“I feel like our mothers were violated,” Ballard told 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.”
And of her half-siblings, she said: “We also feel cheated that we didn’t get to know each other growing up.”
The only bright spot she found is the camaraderie that was formed between her and a couple of her siblings.
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