All these routine genetic testing services are having an interesting consequence: people are discovering genetic connections with all kinds of strangers. For instance, I was contacted by a woman who is about my age because 23andMe said she was my second cousin — she’d been given up for adoption as a baby, and so was looking for information on her biological family. I passed the word on to my mother, who asked around a little bit, but it was awkward. You can’t very well press your elderly uncles & aunts & great-uncles & great-aunts if they knew which of our relatives was secretly pregnant in 1958 and traveled to southern California to give birth. I learned nothing. But I’ve got more relatives submitting DNA samples for these tests, and maybe somewhere along the line some embarrassing history will be revealed. I feel for all parties involved.
But what if you innocently submitted a sample and then discovered that you had 50 or more half-brothers and -sisters? That’s what happened to a group of people, mostly in Indiana, who discovered they all shared the same father, a man named Donald Cline, who was (you probably won’t be surprised) a fertility clinic doctor. The secret to his success was that he used fresh sperm for insemination — really fresh sperm. Apparently he’d masturbate in his office and then come into the examining room where his patient was exposed in the stirrups, and he’d have in his hand a still-warm vial of his secret sauce.
This, it turns out, is not illegal in Indiana. They have no laws regulating ethical insemination policies, so there was nothing he could be charged with, except obstruction of justice. He’d lied to investigators, initially claiming he’d used med student sperm, then that it was only a few patients, and then as the numbers racked up, he was rather flexible in claiming that he’d only done this as many times as there were offspring with evidence in hand. So they couldn’t get him on abuse of his responsibilities as a doctor, but only on the charge of lying about it. Oh, Indiana.
Wanton insemination of multiple women in a community has other consequences.
The donor children have begun cataloging the ways their own paths have crossed, too. White went to Purdue at the same time as one of his half brothers. One sibling sold another a wagon at a garage sale. Two of them lived on the same street. Two had kids on the same softball team. They’re worried that their children are getting old enough to date soon. “Did you not consider we all live in a relatively close area?” one sister said she has wondered about Cline. “Did you really think … that we wouldn’t meet? That we wouldn’t maybe date? That we wouldn’t have kids who might date? Did you never consider that?” Cline now looms over their kids’ every innocent crush, their every prom date.
Yeah, those kids might want to demand genetic testing of potential spouses before they marry.
But Lyin’ Donald Cline has a defense. It’s religion, of course.
What particularly galled some of the siblings was how Cline used his faith as deflection. By all accounts, he is a very religious man—for his sentencing, several elders from his evangelical church wrote letters attesting to his character. After the restaurant meeting, Cline called Ballard to say her digging up the past was destroying his marriage: His wife considered his actions adultery. In the call, which Ballard recorded, Cline told her he regretted what he’d done—though he admitted to using his own sperm only nine or 10 times—and quoted Jeremiah 1:5, in which God lays out his plan for the prophet: “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you.” Again, Ballard felt he was using her faith to try to manipulate her.
His actions tell me all that I need to know about his character. His words now only tell me that he is a liar and a coward. I have more respect for his wife, though, and one way he might get punished is if his wife divorces him, using the voluminous physical evidence that he was a serial adulterer, and takes him for everything she can. Followed by civil suits from his victims that clean out the rest.