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Jacoba Ballard’s earnest quest to find her half-siblings turned into something far more sinister after she learned that she, along with dozens of others, was the product of a fertility doctor’s disturbing misdeeds.
Ballard, who is featured prominently in Netflix’s new documentary “Our Father,” knew that she had been donor-conceived ever since she was 10 years old. She began looking for half-siblings in 2014, when she was in her thirties, and was shocked to find an alarming amount of half-siblings on 23andMe, The Atlantic reported in 2019.
She had been told that her parents' fertility doctor would only use a sperm donor a maximum of three times ... so she decided to investigate further.
What she unearthed were dozens and dozens of siblings, all of whom were technically the children of former Indiana fertility doctor Dr. Donald Cline. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, he was thought to be one of the best fertility doctors in Indiana.
Ballard was one of the first to suspect that Cline may have used his own sperm to impregnate patients without their knowledge.
In fact, according to the documentary, he technically may have fathered more than 94 children.
Ballard began reaching out to half-siblings to let them know her suspicions. Each time she was alerted of a new family member, she’d spend hours on the phone with them, she explains in the documentary. Soon, she and a group of siblings confronted Cline, and he admitted to using his own sperm but he claimed he did so sparingly.
Ballard was proactive in pressuring the local news and authorities to take action against Cline. In a recorded phone call, included in the documentary, Cline tried to convince her to keep his misdoings quiet but she did not back down.
“When he called me, it’s like ‘Bring it on, bring it on, because I’m ready to fight you,'” she said. She continued to contact the attorney general’s office while self-investigating Cline.
Her efforts ultimately led to Cline’s arrest in 2016. He pleaded guilty in 2017 to two counts of obstruction of justice for lying to investigators with the state attorney general's office, the Indianapolis Star reported at the time. He at first claimed that he did not as a sperm donor without his patients’ knowledge, but later admitted to doing so, and a DNA test proved that he was lying.
He served no jail time after his 365-day sentence was suspended, a decision that left many of his victims distraught. He was ordered to pay a $500 fine. There was no law in place in Indiana at the time that would criminalized Cline using his own sperm without patients' knowledge, The New York Times reported.
"I want laws changed, I want medical professionals to be held accountable," Ballard told the Times in 2017. "As far as peace of mind? I'll never have that."
She helped make that change. In 2018, she and other victims of Cline successfully advocated for legislation in the state which makes illicit donor insemination illegal. She is now hoping to get a federal law passed that would also make such an act illegal.
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