The Fertility Doctor’s Secret
March 19, 2019 2:53 PM   Subscribe

In retrospect, finding her first half siblings was too easy. She signed up for an online forum for adoptees and donor-conceived children, and quickly met another woman whose mother had also been treated by Cline. She looked the woman up on Facebook and saw her photos. “I was like, Oh my goodness, I think that is my sister, ” Ballard says.
posted by Chrysostom (45 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Fertility Doctor’s Secret

Oh, oh, is it that he was a caring and responsible physician who never once abused his power or position to do physical or emotional harm? No? He had a different secret? What could it be?
posted by The Bellman at 3:01 PM on March 19 [79 favorites]


My desire to have a word with this man GREATLY eclipses a lot of things for me right now.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:08 PM on March 19 [12 favorites]




I am unshocked to hear that he was making his own donations.

Note: I haven't actually read the article yet, am just building on The Bellman's snark.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:36 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


On getting away with it:

He wasn’t charged with battery with bodily waste—Indiana considers that a crime only if it’s done “in a rude, insolent, or angry manner.”

If ya gotta pee on someone, pee with a smile.
posted by eirias at 3:41 PM on March 19 [9 favorites]


He’s a serial rapist. There’s no punishment severe enough.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:46 PM on March 19 [19 favorites]


From the Atlantic article:
Sperm donation was shrouded in secrecy from the beginning. In 1884, a doctor named William Pancoast found himself unable to cure a wealthy man in Philadelphia who was struggling with infertility. Not one to give up, Pancoast tried something new. After sedating the man’s wife with chloroform, he injected her with semen from his best-looking medical student. This was the first documented case of successful donor insemination. Pancoast told the husband only afterwards, and the man agreed to never tell his wife. The end justified the means. The healthy baby justified the lie.
This isn't 'secrecy,' it's at the least reproductive coercion. The eventual bearer never agreed to those terms.

Donald Cline's patients from 1979-1986 never agreed to using his sperm. More than fifty people were conceived in this manner; for these abuses, Cline was fined $500 and given a year's probation. Oh, there's grandiosity, and blasphemy, too:
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.”
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:53 PM on March 19 [30 favorites]


What. The Fuck.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:08 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


All of it is A Lot, but this......
“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?”
y i p e s
posted by epersonae at 4:32 PM on March 19 [62 favorites]


"Christ, what an asshole"
posted by nikaspark at 5:31 PM on March 19 [8 favorites]


I recently found out I was donor conceived. My mother didn't even know. It's unclear whether the doctor screwed up, just decided to swap sperm because he knew my dad's wasn't viable, or had a private meeting with my father and got his permission. Either way, my mother didn't give consent, and we - me at 35 and her at almost 70 - were both side-swiped by me finding 4 half siblings so far and eventually my biological father (who is wonderful, thank goodness) on ancestry and 23andme. He donated over 2 dozen times though, who knows how many more might be out there and just haven't sent in their spit. This kind of unethical bullshit is disgustingly pervasive the fertility domain, whether it is situations like this or simply there not being ANY regulations on how many donations can be made or how many offspring one donor can create in a geographical area! There are folks in online support groups I participate in that are finding dozens of half siblings, and their entire lives have been rocked by the way the system was designed to work, never mind when you have monsters like this included (yes, monsters, plural, this is by no means an isolated incident). The fertility clinic system is very broken and does not even begin to take into account the lives and emotions of the actual fucking people it creates. This hits very close to home, it makes me so very angry and sad for the people who have to live with what he did to them and their families without their explicit permission.
posted by danapiper at 6:25 PM on March 19 [78 favorites]


This is happening in my city. In Ottawa's case, he specialized in treating LGBT families (especially lesbians) and was named to the Order of Canada for his work; he neglected to mention the "with his own sperm" bit. He is suspected of using his own sperm 11 times, and playing sperm roulette in many other cases. (150 people are suing him, but that includes both parents and children, so it's unclear how many individual breaches he committed.) (He also, weirdly, cheated at the Boston Marathon.)

Especially galling is that he was investigated for sample-swapping repeatedly, and given a slap on the wrist the first time. (The second time, he 'voluntarily resigned' his membership.)
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:30 PM on March 19 [21 favorites]


You know why this is scary? Because we are drawn to people who are genetically close to us.

If a man and a woman are genetically very different, as a couple they are likely to be sub-fertile. A random stranger from way across the globe is likely to genes that don't work perfectly with you. Sometimes the egg won't accept any of the sperm; other times the conceptus will fail to divide. The various chromosomes may have trouble matching. The couple may end up looking for fertility help, but most likely if they attempt it, they will manage a conception in a few months. However this still means fewer kids over all, maybe half or the third the number from a more closely related pair.

Your second cousin is your most fertile pairing. If a couple are genetically similar they are more likely to successfully conceive and more of their attempts will result in a pregnancy. Second cousins are close enough that they conceive easily, but distant enough that there is a negligible risk of birth defects.

Humans - and other animals with similar genetic situations - are instinctively drawn to be sexually attracted to partners who are genetically similar. The other person will look beautiful to them, and they will smell right and their voice will have the right kind of intonation and they will be able to mirror each other more easily. That's what mate selection is all about, pairing off with people who are likely to result in successful pregnancies.

This drive would lead to people inbreeding, if there wasn't an instinct to prevent it. The instinct that prevents incest is triggered by growing up together. If you are running around together as toddlers and single digit aged kids, when you grow up you will tend to find it impossible to feel sexual about each other. There are lots of situations where this has been tested. The kibbutzim, who were raised together, for example, all wanted to find partners outside of the kibbutz, because the spark just wasn't there.

So if two people who are genetically similar meet each other as adults and they don't know they are related, there is a strong chance they will end up on each other's list of prospective partners, and if they do they will rank high on that list. They're going to notice each other. Say you get a young man and a young woman who are going to the same university: he's going to hold a pencil up near his face, and she's going to think, "He's cute," without ever realising that she's looking at a mirror of herself. She's going to ask a question in class and he's going to imprint on her and remember, "That's the girl with the gorgeous voice." The chances of them ending up as a couple are much higher if they are genetically related and don't know it, than any genetically distant pair also attending the school. It's not the same odds as two genetic strangers. They are designed to be looking for each other.

Happily there is no history of inbreeding in the doctor's lineage that we know of, so if a couple like that does wind up together and has kids together they are unlikely to have problems with birth defects. They will be more fertile than average, but their kids probably have enough outside genetics from the two grandmothers to prevent any problems with duplicate recessives. The big problem is if and when they find out.

This is not good.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:38 PM on March 19 [21 favorites]


I recently found out I was donor conceived

danapiper, thank you for sharing your story. Donor-conceived people share some of the experiences that closed-adoption people do in the age of consumer DNA testing around the unsettling experience of finding and meeting previously unknown and sometimes unsuspected relatives.

Jane the Brown describes, in part and not in the terms I would use, one possible challenging outcome which within the reunion community and possibly elsewhere is known as "genetic attraction" and in cases where the attraction is expressed sexually, "genetic sexual attraction," often abbreviated GSE presumably to reduce the intensity of negative emotional response to the term.

I believe that donor-conceived people and adopted people each experience a sense of the world which is parallel and grounded in loss, which is often not recognized in our nurturance and which can create challenges in our adult relationships. I don't have, like, an agenda or manifesto about how to resolve this experience for us. But donor-conceived, I have an intimate compassion for you.
posted by mwhybark at 10:01 PM on March 19 [6 favorites]


We really, really need to add "impregnated without consent" to the list of felonies, and treat it like rape or worse. Add it to rape charges where possible. Throw in a clause that it can't be used in cases of consensual sex.

And definitely add it to the list of civil offenses, where the mothers can sue the "donor" for all the medical costs of pregnancy, labor, post-birth recovery (potentially including treatment for postpartum depression, which can last years), childcare costs, and lost wages involved in parenting. Don't add "child support" to that list - he doesn't get parental rights, just has to pay the medical and other costs of the pregnancy he caused without consent.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:58 PM on March 19 [22 favorites]


Oh cool. All the gametes I have left are in a fertility clinic right now, sleeping peacefully under a blanket of liquid nitrogen. (I might still be able to make more if we absolutely had to, but it would be Seriously Unpleasant and there’s no guarantee.) I wonder if we’ll get back the same ones I put in, when the time comes.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 11:24 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


THIS WAS NOT EVEN IN MY THREAT MODEL
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 11:25 PM on March 19 [18 favorites]


What a mess for everyone involved. I expect these kind of stories will keep on popping up in the years to come, together with all the infidelity that's been going on. I hope the "kids" are able to make their peace with it.
posted by Harald74 at 11:48 PM on March 19


Your second cousin is your most fertile pairing.

That's very interesting and all, but probably not something to bring up in small talk at family gatherings...
posted by Harald74 at 11:49 PM on March 19 [9 favorites]


It's not the same odds as two genetic strangers. They are designed to be looking for each other.


Why don't we hear about more second cousins accidentally getting together? I don't know most of mine, or even their last names, so I'm assuming most people don't. Do people move enough that they don't tend to run into each other? (It occurred to me just while writing this that for my granddad who died young, I don't even know if he had siblings.)
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:23 AM on March 20


This article made me so angry and sad.

Madeira took an interest in the case and helped write the fertility-fraud bill. “When you talk to people about the Cline case, it’s a physiological reaction of disgust, the sense that it’s deeply, morally wrong,” she says. “Is it legally wrong? It should be.”

I really hope that globally legislation gets passed.
posted by ellieBOA at 1:03 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


I don't know most of mine, or even their last names, so I'm assuming most people don't.

It really depends. (I know my third cousins, for example.) But also, I thought for a while they used to do blood testing before you could get married?
posted by corb at 2:41 AM on March 20


That's what mate selection is all about, pairing off with people who are likely to result in successful pregnancies.

This kinda ignores an awful lot of people, notably those who are queer. That's the case for so many 'just so' stories or explanations is human behaviour, and a reason to often avoid them. You can explain GSE without that kind of reductivism.
posted by Dysk at 2:53 AM on March 20 [44 favorites]


(And genetic sexual attraction is dubious science as well.)
posted by Dysk at 3:34 AM on March 20 [20 favorites]


Jane the Brown, you delivered that with an awful lot of authority, I'm not entirely sure much of it is justified.

Research has shown genetic opposites do attract..
A comparative survey of couples suggests people are more attracted to those who have very different immunity genes from their own, even though they are not aware of it....

"It may be tempting to think that humans choose their partners because of their similarities," said Maria da Graça Bicalho, a professor of immunology at the University of Paraná in Brazil. "[But] our research has shown clearly that it is differences that make for successful reproduction, and that the subconscious drive to have healthy children is important when choosing a mate."

More diversity = taller and smarter children - "The children of genetically-unrelated parents are more likely than those with similar genes to be taller and more intelligent according to the biggest study yet of human genetic diversity in an age when more people than ever are marrying people from different parts of the world."
posted by smoke at 3:40 AM on March 20 [21 favorites]


If a man and a woman are genetically very different, as a couple they are likely to be sub-fertile. A random stranger from way across the globe is likely to genes that don't work perfectly with you.

This isn't true.
posted by quaking fajita at 4:50 AM on March 20 [39 favorites]


But also, I thought for a while they used to do blood testing before you could get married?

That was definitely true in the US in many states until pretty recently even, but I don't think that was a genetic test (I'm not even sure those were a known thing when those laws were passed), it was a screening for certain diseases and infections, mainly STIs.
posted by solotoro at 5:14 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


I was discussing this with my wife and said that the most reasonable actual bad thing about it was the closely-related-people-breeding deal. As in “not just people outraged” but something where objective bad things could easily happen.

Yeah, that sounds unfeeling and monstrous when I say it out loud, so we’ll take it as given that I’m a bad person, but what I was leading up to was, I wonder if the folks that are affected have any genetic problems that would really make first or second-cousin marriages a really bad idea? I hope not, of course, and hope someone is checking. I believe I carry a recessive for at least one Very Bad Thing which I guess drives my thinking in that direction.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:52 AM on March 20


How could it possibly fucking matter when at least 50 women, and likely hundreds more, were repeatedly raped? How are people more concerned with hypothetical genetic match ups than a serial fucking rapist who raped with impunity under the guise of helping people for his entire fucking career?

I mean, I know how. But Jesus fucking CHRIST.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:00 AM on March 20 [27 favorites]


I mean yeah it's the main bad thing as far as physical issues that could come of it afaik, but let's not discount trauma and misery from having your free will violated in such an intimate way as a real negative consequence.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 6:00 AM on March 20 [4 favorites]


This is not the first time this has happened. There was a doctor in Virginia some years ago who used his own sperm for multiple infertility patients. He was a very ugly fellow in a appearance, and had a genetic eye defect which he did pass on to some of his offspring. This kind of action has multiple negative consequences which many have already pointed out. I remember there was a case like this in England as well. It probably happened more often than anyone thinks.
posted by mermayd at 6:45 AM on March 20




I've previously heard about both GSA and the Westermarck Effect which supposedly counteracts it -- but while they make a compelling narrative, they're both hypotheses which don't currently enjoy a lot of actual scientific support.

If such an effect does exist for certain people, I'm personally highly sceptical that it evolved as some kind of second cousin optimal mate radar, and suspect that it's an occasional side effect of relatives inheriting both genes for expressing certain physical features and the corresponding genes for expressing attraction to those physical features (from ancestors who put those particular lego pieces together). If that is even a thing, which it may not be. I'm a layperson, and this is a complete thumb-suck.
posted by confluency at 6:53 AM on March 20 [4 favorites]


Your second cousin is your most fertile pairing.

That's very interesting and all, but probably not something to bring up in small talk at family gatherings...


I mean, my first-generation American Jewish family members married each other as first cousins in the 50s (?).

I think it had a lot less to do with potential fertility and more to do with traditions incubated in a shtetl of 150 people, all of whom you were relatively closely related.

The Law & Order wiki linked above mentions that that episode was based on the doctor in Virginia's case.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:14 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Wasn't this made into an SNL skit at some point?
posted by Melismata at 7:47 AM on March 20


Why don't we hear about more second cousins accidentally getting together?

Because there aren't any reasons second cousins shouldn't marry? Hell, it's not actually exceptionally genetically dangerous for first cousins to marry, as long as it is either a one off or the marriages are part of a sequence of out-marriages. But the genetic similarity really drops off at second cousins and beyond and I don't think even the eugenics movement (the source of most of the cousin marriage laws in the US) pushed for outlawing them.
posted by tavella at 8:19 AM on March 20 [7 favorites]


Easily available DNA kits are simultaneously the best and worst things that have ever happened.
posted by all about eevee at 8:25 AM on March 20 [4 favorites]


I think there is a family resemblance between these cases of intentional violation, and others like this one from a few years ago in which the wrong sperm were apparently used by mistake. This lawsuit I linked brought up a whole host of other icky feelings into the mix (the moms are white, the child is not), and of course the fact that it was accidental means there’s not as clear an analogy to rape, but both have this element of: I agreed to produce a person under X circumstances and yet because of someone else, the person that resulted is in some way not-X.

As a parent I get the shivers trying to unimagine my kid. I would hate to have that feeling alloyed with the sense that by all rights, she “shouldn’t” be.
posted by eirias at 8:33 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


I think it had a lot less to do with potential fertility and more to do with traditions incubated in a shtetl of 150 people, all of whom you were relatively closely related.

Kind of, but when you're dealing with small communities of closely related people over many generations, there tends to be more of a prohibition on who you're allowed to marry, not less. It's part of the reason why matchmakers were a huge part of life in the shtetl, and also why a friend of mine who grew up on one of the Cayman Islands was specifically told that anyone from two or three other islands were off limits. Jokes about inbreeding in rural communities aside, they've got a lot of cultural experience involving trying to diversify the bloodlines.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:51 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Wasn't this made into an SNL skit at some point?

According to the Wikipedia there's a SNL skit starring John Goodman that's based on the case of fertility specialist Dr. Cecil Byran Jacobson who impregnated between 15 and 75 of his patients with his own sperm without their consent.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:55 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]


Thanks, Secret Sparrow. There was also the one about the girl-crazy obstetrician who delivered more than 4,300 babies, "all" of whom were girls, which I was confusing with the John Goodman one. SNL is on it!
posted by Melismata at 9:01 AM on March 20


Holy *shit* that's a dark SNL skit.

Wow.
posted by el io at 9:16 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


Does anyone know why/how this doesn't fall under medical malpractice? It seems there was a lack of informed consent as they were lied to as the the source of the sperm. They agreed to a certain procedure and received a different one. I also think this is definitely under sexual assault and it's astonishing that it's not - but does medical malpractice not already cover that or is that newer?
posted by Crystalinne at 2:41 PM on March 20 [4 favorites]


tavella: "Hell, it's not actually exceptionally genetically dangerous for first cousins to marry, as long as it is either a one off or the marriages are part of a sequence of out-marriages."

Yeah, one off is not a huge deal. You get the inbreeding defects when you keep doing it over and over (e.g., the Habsburgs).
posted by Chrysostom at 8:01 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know why/how this doesn't fall under medical malpractice?

This is a guess but one of the roadblocks I've run into in trying to find out what happened in my situation is that the doctors destroyed records older than 10 years. So for all of us finding out in our 30s we aren't who we thought we were, there is no proof one way or the other that this wasn't what the permission was given for. The women wanted donor sperm. They may not have specified whose sperm they wanted, and even if they did, it's her word against his and we know how that usually pans out.
posted by danapiper at 3:51 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


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