‘Our Father’ Explained: How Did Donald Cline Get Away From Heinous Immoralities?


The latest Netflix documentary, “Our Father,” is a terrifying watch about the wicked perversions of a fertility doctor in Indianapolis, and the resulting effects on more than a hundred other people. The documentary brings to the fore the understandable desperation of patients, and its brutal honesty is enough to shake the basis of trust that people have in their doctors. As a documentary, “Our Father” presents itself quite cleverly and has the ability to make one grow sympathetic towards the innumerable women and men affected by the pathetic Dr. Donald Cline.

Mature Content Warning

What Is The Documentary ‘Our Father’ About?

The documentary begins with the account of a woman named Jacoba Ballard, whose whole search into her parental history led her down a rabbit hole. From a very young age, Jacoba would often ask her parents if she was adopted, owing to the stark physical differences between them—she has blonde hair with blue eyes, while both her parents have dark eyes and hair. Finally, able to convince them that she would not mind knowing about her birth, even if she was adopted, Jacoba learned from her mother that she was conceived from a donor sperm as her father was unable to have children physically. Her mother, Debbie Pierce, was desiring to become a mother, and, with the situation that she was in, she had to consult a renowned fertility expert called Dr. Donald Cline. Debbie asked for artificial insemination, and like every other patient, she was matched to a donor; after the treatment was carried out, she conceived Jacoba. Asking to know more about her biological father, the mother had told her daughter what the doctor had said to her: that the donor had been selected on the basis of his physical health and that any particular donor’s samples would be used in the case of no more than three such treatments. With all this information, Jacoba had always known that she had step-siblings somewhere in her city or country, and growing up as a single child, she sometimes wanted to find them and have someone to share parts of her life with. She had even once contacted Dr. Cline over the matter, but the doctor had very un-empathetically, as she recalls it, told her that she was not allowed to know such information.

Many years later, in 2014, Jacoba saw advertisements for a DNA Ancestry Test by 23andMe and decided to look for her step-siblings through the same. The results excited as well as concerned her at the same time, though, as it said that Jacoba had seven siblings on her father’s side. Cline’s former nurse at his clinic, Jan Shore, and his former business partner, Dr. Robert Colver, who are also interviewed, admit that the ideal number of practical uses of a sperm donor is limited to three, as a large number of children from the same donor brings in the risk of too many people related to each other living close to a single area. Back around 2014, Jacoba started reaching out to her step-siblings, who all started to try and look for their biological father, and it was then that the thought first struck them—what if their father was the doctor who had treated all their parents at some point of time?

Was Dr. Cline behind all of this? If so, then why?

Through all of the step-siblings’ DNA test reports, Jacoba soon came across a woman who happened to be related to all of them and who was also active on the 23andMe website. She contacted her and the woman gladly helped by providing all the family names related to her—she had a cousin brother with the surname Cline who happened to be a doctor. This confirmed Jacoba’s worst fear, that Donald Cline had lied about donor sperm being used on their respective mothers, and he was all of their biological father. Jacoba quickly filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office claiming fraudulence in the doctor’s name, but she was never contacted back. With growing desperation, she then contacted Fox59 reporter Angela Ganote and described her shocking claim in detail. Angela immediately picked up on the story and contacted the administration as well as Cline on her own, with the latter only claiming that he was not the father of the people as was being claimed, and that he was unwilling to provide any DNA sample.

Meanwhile, more names started cropping up in relation to Jacoba and her siblings on the ancestry website, and then Cline’s own son met with her at her neighborhood church. The son reported that he had spoken with his father over this matter, and the doctor had actually personally disclosed to him that he was indeed their biological father. However, despite admitting to using his own sperm on unaware patients instead of any registered donor’s, Cline claimed that he had done it only when there was no potential donor found, and that he had done it no more than ten times. This claim was soon found to be terribly false, as the number of siblings found online crossed ten. Julie Harmon, the 14th sibling found, had an even more horrific tale: her mother had suffered from some fertility issues and so had consulted Dr. Cline, asking him to artificially inseminate her with her own husband’s healthy specimen. However, Julie’s ancestral history now made it clear that the doctor had used his own in this case too, and the availability of donors had no relation to Cline’s disgusting acts.

Julie soon joined forces with Jacoba to bring the deserving lawful punishment on the man, and the two convinced Cline to meet all of them through his son. The now-retired doctor agreed and met them at a restaurant, but he had no remorse or compassion for his biological children at all. His attitude instead was one of judging each of them based on their health and position in society and also that of threatening, as he visibly carried a gun on his waist. When asked for an explanation of his actions, he maintained that all their mothers were desperate for children, and it would be too late to wait for available donors, so he put in his own sample to basically help them out. On the other hand, Angela Ganote had run a news show on the matter without naming the man, and she had been sent emails by him that were indirectly threatening to sue her and the company she worked for. As more and more people started discovering their surprising ancestral history and contacting Jacoba for help, Jacoba herself received a phone call from the doctor. Over the recorded phone conversation, the man basically tried to convince the woman to stop putting out more about the case on public television, as that might cause trouble for his old age and bring an end to his own marriage. After obviously being denied by Jacoba, he then agreed to have a private meeting with Angela, in which he tried to convince the reporter not to air the show.

With close to 50 illegitimate children now wanting to remove their biological father’s mask of civility and renown as an esteemed doctor, the important question was to find a potential reason behind the man’s actions. While most believed it to be part of the man’s perverse sexuality, potential links with the man’s Catholic religion and one particular religious cult were also found. Many years ago, in 1963, Donald Cline killed a young girl in a road accident, and despite not being found criminally guilty, the man had grave remorse for it and had turned to religion to deal with his feelings. Since then, he had a very staunch religious presence in his local church, where he was also part of the eldership, having a say in how the church was run and what its decisions should be. However, Jacoba and her half-siblings also found a link between the doctor and a man who was part of a religious cult called Quiverfull. As they found out, Quiverfull is a terribly patriarchal group or belief among some conservative Christians, who look at children as gifts from God, and so believe that the greater number of children a couple produces, the better. Going through the group’s online presence, it is also discovered that in recent times, their ideal agenda has been that members should give birth to as many children as possible, so that they would grow up to be propagators of the same mindset, and hence, run over the city, state, country, and so on. Although no full-proof links between Cline and the Quiverfull movement were found, the man’s pathetic acts did indeed go hand in hand with the belief that sees women as mere bodies meant to give birth. In the end, the real reasons why Donald Cline committed such acts remain unknown, as he kept claiming it was to help the women. The most probable answer remains that it was an act of twisted sexual pleasure for him to inseminate patients with his own sperm, despite his continual rejection of such a motive.

What allowed the doctor to walk free?

The next step in bringing the man to justice was to formulate a criminal case against him. All the step-siblings working on the case managed to contact authorities once more, through Angela Ganote and her reporting, which had now garnered even more interest on television. The county prosecutor at the time, Tim Delaney, got in touch with the team and met with them to discuss the matter. However, Jacoba and her siblings shockingly learned that the state laws of Indiana did not have any legal regulation under which Donald Cline’s disgusting acts could be treated as a crime. The state’s laws at that time required a charge of rape to have both the use of force as well as non-consent, the first of which was not true in any of the incidents as there had been no usual penetration. There was one law to make it happen, though; in order to inseminate the patients with his own sample, Cline had to perform acts of masturbation in close proximity to his professional patients and also in his professional work place; and so when he touched his patients of the opposite sex only a few minutes after doing so, what certainty was there that his touching was medical and not sexual? But Delaney could not go ahead with framing such a case, though, as he was well aware that the juries would dismiss any rape-by-deception claims saying that the women had, after all, agreed to artificial insemination. Within some time, though, the prosecutor found an instance of a criminal offense against the man, as he had lied to the state government on official forms. Earlier, when the authorities had received reports against the doctor, they had contacted him to ask him about his stand on the matter, and he had outright denied the claims. On the official forms, Cline had even suggested suing Jacoba for libel and slander, and then had ultimately confessed to having used his own sperm both to Jacoba and Angela. Although there was no criminal law with which the man could be brought down because of his terrible crimes, a charge of lying against the government was brought against him, and Cline was ultimately arrested. A DNA test was run as part of the procedure, and it returned a 99.9997% chance of him being Jacoba’s biological father.

It was in the court that many of Cline’s biological children saw him for the first time, as the man pleaded guilty to having lied to the state government on the official forms. Despite Jacoba’s numerous attempts to bring up accounts of what the doctor had done to her mother and all her step-siblings’ mothers, the court refused to listen to any of it, citing that it could legally only listen to matters and concerns directly related to the crime, which in this case was lying to the government. After the hearing, the judge showed sympathy towards Cline, as Jacoba remembers, and also mentioned how many members of society and the church had vouched for Cline’s being a remarkable man. The ex-doctor was ultimately allowed to walk free only with a level 6 felony against his name and a fine of $500.

‘Our Father’ Explained: What Ultimately Happens To Cline And The Children In The End?

Over the years, more people have come up with the same result of being the biological child of Donald Cline, and some have been in even more horrific circumstances. When Alison Kramer got to know that Cline was her biological father, she was not just disgusted by how the doctor had deceived her parents, but was also terrified as the same man had also been her own fertility doctor throughout her childbirth. Ultimately, all that Jacoba and her step-siblings could manage to do was shed light on not just the particular doctor’s acts but also on the flaws of the American judiciary and legislature systems. Finally, in 2018, they managed to pass state legislation in Indiana which made illicit donor inseminations illegal. With more such at-home DNA tests, 44 other doctors were also found to have committed similar acts, and Netflix’s documentary perhaps wishes to draw more attention to the matter. At present, the number of unlawful biological children that Cline gave birth to with his own sperm sample stands at 94 and is expected to keep rising.

‘Our Father’ is a 2022 Crime Documentary film directed by Lucie Jourdan.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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