INDIANAPOLIS – Some men and women whose mothers were unknowingly impregnated by their fertility doctor's own sperm are upset that an Indiana legislative panel isn't endorsing a proposal explicitly outlawing such actions in the state.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to strip from a bill the section creating a felony criminal charge of fertility fraud for doctors using their own sperm or eggs without the patient's consent. The proposal now would only specifically give the mothers and children the right to file lawsuits in such cases. Lawmakers could still restore the fertility fraud provision when the bill goes to the full Senate.
Marion County prosecutors said they were limited in what charges they could pursue against Dr. Donald Cline because state law doesn't cover use of a doctor's own sperm. Cline was given a one-year suspended sentence in 2017 after pleading guilty to charges that he lied to investigators when he denied wrongdoing with perhaps dozens of patients from the 1970s and 1980s at his Indianapolis clinic.
Liz White told the committee about being a patient of Cline's in the early 1980s when she and her husband couldn't conceive a child, saying he told her that he would be using donor sperm from medical students. She showed a photo taken the day she gave birth to her son, Matt. She said she was overjoyed at his birth, but now feels like she was “raped 15 times and didn't even know it” during her treatments with Cline.
“I did not want his semen,” she said. “I don't care how it came into my body. It was against my knowledge. It was against my consent.”
Republican Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis sought removal of the criminal charge section of the bill, arguing that the state's current fraud and deception laws are sufficient. The Senate committee voted 7-3 to remove it.
“We can't force a prosecutor to bring the case. Whether they say it is too difficult or not is not the issue,” Young said. “The issue is we already have laws, so we don't need another one.”
A Marion County prosecutor's office spokeswoman didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.
But Indiana University law professor Jody Medeira told the committee that her research found a gap in state law preventing criminal prosecution of Cline.
Medeira said California has the only state law she could find specifically against misuse of sperm by a fertility doctor.
Cline's case wasn't the first of its kind. In Virginia, Dr. Cecil Jacobson was convicted in 1992 of fraud and perjury for using his sperm to impregnate patients without telling them.
DNA tests have found that Cline is likely the biological father of at least 46 children born to his patients, said Jacoba Ballard, whose mother was treated by Cline and whose complaint to the state helped launched an investigation.
Cline, who retired from medical practice in 2009, surrendered his expired license to the Indiana Medical Licensing Board in August. The board voted to prohibit him from ever applying for a license in Indiana again.
White's son, Matt White, said he didn't understand Young's opposition to creating a criminal charge and called that section's removal “deplorable.”
“He's clearly not listening to our county prosecutors, who have spent years looking at the existing laws, this particular case and trying to come up with what avenue can we charge him,” Matt White said.