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Jacoba Ballard was compelled to take a 23andMe DNA test when she made a shocking discovery that would be the subject of a Netflix documentary.
It was 2014 and the Indiana woman who was donor-conceived was curious if she, an only child, had any half-siblings. Over eight years, the 43-year-old discovered she had at least 94 brothers and sisters.
At least seven of them lived within a 25-mile radius of her. They all shared a biological father — fertility doctor Donald Cline — who had been artificially inseminating his patients with his own sperm without their consent or knowledge.
The story of Ballard’s discovery, as well as her half siblings’ quest to seek justice, is the subject of “Our Father,” which is streaming now.
Director Lucie Jourdan told Fox News Digital that filming began in 2017 after a passionate Ballard was determined to share her story publicly in hopes of raising awareness on laws that can be passed to protect patients. But not all the siblings were initially on board to share their accounts.
“Jacoba was all for it, but we had to earn the other siblings’ trust,” Jourdan explained. “They were wary. We dedicated years to making sure that they felt comfortable with us as we listened to their stories and started digging in and investigating Cline ourselves. I needed to tell this story to help Jacoba get a voice. Yes, the story is about a fertility doctor, but this is a story about consent for women. And that was my driving force in making the film.
“A lot of them were motivated to speak out by the fact there were no laws to protect mothers,” Jourdan added. “It was incredibly brave of them to speak out, share their stories and identify this man. And I think his audacity in trying to keep them quiet was also a motivating factor for them … This story is a warning.”
Court documents allege Cline told six adults believed to be his biological children that he had donated his own sperm about 50 times because he was trying to help his patients and didn’t have access to fresh sperm. The Indianapolis-based fertility doctor had told his patients they were receiving sperm from medical or dental residents or medical students and that no single donor’s sperm was used more than three times, according to court records.
Jourdan said we may never know the true motive behind Cline’s actions.
“I will say candidly that the why has never mattered in this story,” she explained. “His point of view doesn’t matter. It has always been my intent to document the fallout of what he did to show how someone can affect the lives of so many people negatively. I wanted to hold their stories up … I do believe this is sexual assault, a sexual violation.”
Shereen Farber, whose twin daughters were fathered by Cline, described how the disgraced medic delivered her children.
“She had this horrified look on her face as she said, ‘How can you be angry when you had what you’ve always wanted?’” said Jourdan. “But there was such a psychological fallout that impacted these families. It’s heartbreaking. Many of the parents are very worried about how their children are handling the news. The mothers have been confiding in one another and trying to work through it.”
Jourdan described how several fathers were devastated by the news. She said only one was willing to be on camera to describe his experience.
“I think that goes to show you just how traumatic this news is, that they couldn’t bring themselves to talk about it,” she said. “The parents have been plagued with so much guilt. There’s also the shame.”
The documentary revealed how Cline was viewed as a religious, devoted family man in his community. He was known for helping heterosexual couples who yearned to become parents. It is believed he carried out his deeds during the ‘70s and ’80s without repercussions. Many of the siblings, blonde and blue-eyed, have even wondered if Cline was trying to breed the “perfect Aryan clan” as a possible motive.
“The siblings were left in the dark,” said Jourdan. “When your reality is completely shattered, you search for answers. I’m not going to comment my opinion on that because, again, it does not matter here. But I think they were trying to piece everything together. But as one of the children said in the documentary, ‘If he would just tell us why we wouldn’t have to have conspiracy theories to guide us.’ And I think that’s really the point. He gave them nothing. So they were frantically searching for answers. They’re still hurting.”
In 2017, Cline avoided jail time for lying about using his own sperm to impregnate as many as dozens of women after telling them the donors were anonymous. Cline was given a one-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice. No other charges were filed against him because Indiana law doesn’t specifically prohibit fertility doctors from using their own sperm.
Cline was charged after lying to investigators, and he faced up to three years in prison on each count. The charges stemmed from two confirmed cases of paternity. Cline, who retired in 2009, initially denied the allegations when he wrote to investigators, saying that the women who filed the complaints were trying to slander him. He later acknowledged that he lied. Cline mentioned only the two women who first filed complaints. He didn’t discuss his decision to use his own sperm decades ago.
In 2018, Cline surrendered his medical license to a state board that also barred him from ever seeking reinstatement. Jourdan said during the making of “Our Father,” she tried reaching out to Cline.
“He picked up the phone and then abruptly hung up on us,” she said. “I have no idea what he or his family are thinking at the moment.”
Cline also didn’t respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.
Since the release of “Our Father,” Jourdan said it’s likely the number of siblings will “continue to soar” as the story has gone viral. She described how some of the siblings have even grown closer and become “fiercely protective” of each other.
But, more importantly, there’s a sense of relief that they’re being heard. And now, they hope the film will persuade Indiana lawmakers, as well as other legislatures across the country, to pass a measure that would deem a fertility doctor’s use of his own sperm a crime.
“I am really hopeful that things will change because of this film,” Jourdan said. “And I do believe the laws will change. There’s no doubt that this is a sexual violation. This is about autonomy over one’s body. There is outrage. And people are finally listening.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.