Donald Cline, criminal serial inseminator


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.

Comments

  1. wzrd1 says

    On the other side of the scale, a poacher of rhinos was killed an elephant, then eaten by lions.
    Earning a brand new Darwin award.
    Oddly, what was left were his trousers and his skull, which was obviously vacant of nutrition, even by hyenas.
    Which was as telling as the serial jerkoff that was reported upon.

    Seriously, this is so 1980’s news. People got paid for reproductive cells, which were, erm, sold.

    So, what is going on, while those shineys are being shown to us?

  2. Owlmirror says

    one way he might get punished is if his wife divorces him, using the voluminous physical evidence that he was a serial adulterer

    Only if the Indiana definition of adultery includes siring children sans fornication. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure that he could defend himself by arguing that no fornication means no adultery.

    His wife might well argue that siring children without her knowledge and consent violates the spirit of “forsaking all others” in the wedding vows, I suppose.

    Followed by civil suits from his victims that clean out the rest.

    On what grounds? And does “victims” mean the mothers, or the children?

    What he did was skeevy, dishonest, and deceptive, but I can’t quite figure out how “skeevy, dishonest, and deceptive” is necessarily illegal other than as already stated regarding his obstruction of justice.

    Maybe he could be charged with false advertising, if his verbal claim that the donor was a medical student could be considered an advertisement?

  3. raven says

    Maybe he could be charged with false advertising, if his verbal claim that the donor was a medical student could be considered an advertisement?

    This is a serious fraud if he lied about who his sperm donors were. And was receiving monetary payment for it.
    It’s of major importance to most people who their other parent or partner is, even if it is only a genetic link.

    one way he might get punished is if his wife divorces him, using the voluminous physical evidence that he was a serial adulterer

    She could claim he is a creepy weird guy that she doesn’t want to be around any more.
    I don’t even know him and I wouldn’t want to be around him either.

  4. raven says

    By all accounts, he is a very religious man—for his sentencing, several elders from his evangelical church wrote letters attesting to his character.

    That is almost always a bad sign.

  5. raven says

    Donald Cline who
    … 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.”

    Which has zero to do with anything Cline did or didn’t do.
    It’s simply irrelevant.

    It might be that Cline is claiming that god is in charge and everything happens for a reason.
    Which means right now, god with the help of 23andMe, the internet, and other involved parties are taking their revenge and enacting justice upon Donald Cline.

  6. Brain Hertz says

    Followed by civil suits from his victims that clean out the rest.

    On what grounds? And does “victims” mean the mothers, or the children?

    What he did was skeevy, dishonest, and deceptive, but I can’t quite figure out how “skeevy, dishonest, and deceptive” is necessarily illegal…

    Not an attorney, but I’m pretty sure that it is not necessary for anything illegal to have occurred for them to successfully sue him. They would only have to show that they were harmed by his actions.

  7. vucodlak says

    What the doctor did should definitely be illegal, and he should spend a long time in prison for it. It’s a form of rape, and certainly a fraud as well. But this is a seriously disappointing attitude to find here, of all places:

    Yeah, those kids might want to demand genetic testing of potential spouses before they marry.

    Ok. Sure. Two people fall in love, get engaged, and then they gasp find out they’re actually relatively closely related. So… what? The only reason incest should be criminal and shunned is that it often involves abuse born of power disparity, i.e. older siblings abusing younger siblings, parents abusing children, etc. If a power disparity doesn’t exist because two people weren’t raised together, and never even realized they were related, it shouldn’t be a problem.

    Yes, there would be a slight increase in the chances of harmful inherited traits, but there are many factors that would cause a similar increase. Are we going to say it’s just as disgusting and wrong for people over a certain age to have children? Are we going to say that people with certain genetic markers for disease should be ashamed of having children together?

    Or let’s say they get testing done and find out that they’re not related, but one member of the couple has a person of _____ ancestry in their bloodline, and the other member of the couple is disgusted by this. They break up. Is that not also justified by this attitude? Or, let’s say that a couple finds out they are related, but they’re a same sex couple. Should they also be ashamed and disgusted?

    “But I think it’s icky!” is an argument that’s used to justify a lot of heinous things. It’s one thing to suggest people get genetic testing done to be aware of possible problems their offspring might have, but to suggest they should demand their future spouse’s genetic profile as a precondition for marriage is just fucked up. It smacks of eugenics.

  8. Rich Woods says

    he’d masturbate in his office and then come into the examining room where his patient was exposed in the stirrups

    You could perhaps have phrased this a little differently.

  9. says

    @Brain Hertz:

    I know this is going to sound a little weird, but if you were successfully sued, then by definition your actions were illegal.

    However, it is entirely fair to say that one doesn’t need to do anything criminal to be successfully sued, nor does one need to do anything otherwise illegal. In other words, it’s possible that the only law broken is that which provides the basis for the law suit.

    Of course, even lawyers will say things after representing a client being successfully sued for, say, breach of contract that the client did nothing illegal. As a profession, people who work in the law (lawyers, judges, paralegals, etc.) don’t do a good job at sticking with the appropriate lingo when speaking to the general public, and sometimes not even when speaking amongst ourselves. This inevitably causes confusion with the general public who then with good reason believe that illegal is a synonym for criminal.

    I loathe this sort of casual miseducation on the part of those involved with the law for the same reasons as I loathe the casual misuse of biological sex terms for gender and psychological/ sociological/ anthropological gender terms for sex. Both error types drive me up a wall…

  10. Jazzlet says

    vucodlak
    It does rather depend n the culture involved, in places where cousin marriage is culturally accepted as a way to retain property in the family, or in populations originally from those places that retain the practice, it certainly could be a problem.

  11. chrislawson says

    I don’t know what is going on in Indiana. If this happened here in Australia, Cline would be charged with assault and would lose his medical registration forever. I expect he would be also be liable for massive damages in civil suits.

  12. chrislawson says

    raven@5–

    It’s amazing, isn’t it? That Jeremiah quote is nothing more than a serial rapist looking to justify his actions with irrelevant Bible verses.

    In Jeremiah 1:5 God is telling a skeptical Jeremiah that he is a prophet, that God knew he would be a prophet even before he existed, and God is putting “words in your mouth” so Jeremiah had better start preaching them by golly. It has absolutely nothing to do with impregnating women by fraud.

  13. unclefrogy says

    what a cheap greedy lazy bastard.
    there are other ways he could have done it and no doubt there are Indiana farmers with enough experience who could make suggestions. All of which would cost money. Did he charge for all of those other “normal expenses” when he billed for the procedure?
    uncle frogy

  14. Onamission5 says

    Fraud was my first thought. He defrauded his patients. From what little incredibly second hand knowledge I have of artificial insemination, there’s a contractual agreement that preselected donor sperm is what will be used, whether it’s from an existing catalogue or from a friend or husband. Shouldn’t secretly swapping out the agreed upon sample– in this case that of a medical student with characteristics matching those of the husband– with one’s own sample be considered contract fraud? How convenient, then, that all this doctor’s clinic’s records were destroyed.

  15. vucodlak says

    @ lucifersbike, #16

    The article throws a lot of numbers at you, but they’re neither terribly persuasive nor relavent. Fewer than three deaths a year out of how many children of cousins? Doesn’t say that.

    Also doesn’t explain the 81% of deaths from genetic disorders that were apparently not attributable to consanguineous marriage. Doesn’t say how many generations had been participating in the practice of cousin marriage, which can be a major factor in consanguineous disorders. Doesn’t discuss the role of cultural/familial pressures in cousin marriage, which isn’t a factor in the situations I’m talking about. Doesn’t have anything to do with the question of same-sex relationships or child-free partnerships, which laws prohibiting cousin marriage would also affect.

    In other words, it doesn’t say much about the topic at hand, and it certainly doesn’t justify the breathless horror with which some people view it. It’s the equivalent of pointing out that gay men have a higher chance of contracting HIV through unprotected sex than straight men to justify discriminatory laws and behavior. It’s reaching for a justification for the “Ew, that’s icky!” reaction and bigotry born out of that.

  16. thirdmill says

    I am an attorney, and I’m quite certain he could successfully be prosecuted for battery, assuming no statute of limitations problem. Battery is defined as an offensive touching, and inseminating a woman with sperm she has not consented to being inseminated with strikes me as about as offensive as a touching can get. If I were the state attorney, I’d file those charges in a heartbeat.

  17. says

    Damn, Rich Woods @9, I think I almost coughed up a lung laughing at that. Very juvenile of me, and it’s a serious thing I shouldn’t be laughing about, but I think I forgive myself because I’m laughing at the evil wanker rather than the situation.

  18. chrislawson says

    thirdmill@20–

    Non-attorney here. I do wonder why the Indiana prosecutor doesn’t think it’s worth charging Cline. I hope it’s because they’re still investigating and the reporting that this behaviour is not criminal in Indiana is wrong.

  19. says

    @jamieJag:

    I don’t know the law of Indiana – child support requirements are determined state by state – but probably yes. The downside, of course, is that would require recognizing him as a parent, with visitation rights, etc. It’s probably much to the families’ advantage to sue him on some other basis so that recovering money doesn’t require giving him parental rights. Also, from the sound of it, there are a lot of these folks who are already adults (or nearly so). Child support claims most likely would be useless in those cases (though, again, that depends on specifics of Indiana law of which I’m ignorant).

  20. says

    Cecil Jacobson, who committed the same crime and was caught around 1990, was found guilty of “52 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and perjury” according to Wikipedia. This is a depressingly common crime, though — I read an article a while back by a guy who had found out that his father was one such criminal and it turned out that some sort of mental instability involving extreme paranoia ran in the doctor’s family, and he (the author) had inherited it.

  21. M'thew says

    Got a similar case here in the Netherlands: Jan Karbaat is probably the biological father of at least 27 children of women who came to his fertility clinic. On top of that he also inseminated up to 200 women with the sperm of a Surinamese (black) man, despite telling the women the semen came from a Caucasian. At the time he was working there was a directive that semen of the same donor could not be used for more than 6 children. With (as stated by him) up to 6,000 different women impregnated, and approximately 10,000 children born from all that, who knows what else has been going on.

    Karbaat died in 2017, and now it’s up to the courts to try to get a picture of what the hell has happened.

  22. The Mellow Monkey says

    vucodlak

    Two people fall in love, get engaged, and then they gasp find out they’re actually relatively closely related. So… what? The only reason incest should be criminal and shunned is that it often involves abuse born of power disparity, i.e. older siblings abusing younger siblings, parents abusing children, etc.

    While I’m with you philosophically, the examples about cousin marriages are actually not the best considering the differences in consanguinity here.

    Half-siblings have a 25% coefficient of relationship. First cousins have a 12.5% coefficient. There is twice the likelihood for both half-siblings to be carrying identical copies of any given allele than there would be in any of those studies regarding first cousin marriages. Additionally, because it’s a relatively small community and there are so many of them, absent genetic tests to verify relatedness there’s the risk of it being compounded over generations. That’s where higher risk comes in.

    Certainly, I can’t see any reason why it should be illegal in situations where actual family dynamics don’t come into play (it smacks of eugenics), but I can also see good reason for members of a community to voluntarily be on the look out for this. No different than all of the other genetic tests my caregiver suggested I and our sperm donor take.

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