Fertility Doctor's Bait-and-Switch Prompts Push for New Law

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Fertility Doctor's Bait-and-Switch Prompts Push for New Law

Proposal would allow criminal charge of "fertility fraud" for misrepresentation of sperm donors

(INDIANAPOLIS) - The case of an Indianapolis fertility specialist who used his own sperm on unsuspecting women has prompted legislators to try to close a legal loophole.

About 15 of the people in a statehouse committee room learned only in the last couple of years what they have in common: they're half-siblings. Their mothers were patients of Donald Cline, who told them he was using sperm from donors or their fathers. In reality, he was using his own. The children he sired learned the truth 30 or 40 years later, and say the number is approaching 60 by at least 35 women.

Cline pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for lying to medical licensing board investigators, but received no jail time. And prosecutors concluded there wasn't a way to charge him with anything based on the artificial inseminations themselves. The Senate could vote next week on creating a new crime of fertility fraud, carrying up to two-and-a-half years in prison.

The bill makes it easier for victims to sue, giving them up to five years to go to court after the fraud is discovered.

Social worker Liz White told the committee that even if the law didn't allow prosecutors to file rape charges, that's what it was. She says there's no other way to describe having someone else's semen put into her body without her knowledge or consent.

Julie Harmon took a DNA test after seeing news stories about Cline, and says it upended her life to discover the truth. She says it was heartbreaking for her and her mother to tell her dad he wasn't biologically her father. And Jacoba Ballard warns there are not only emotional but practical consequences. With dozens of Cline's children living in the same community, she notes it's not farfetched that some of them could end up in sexual relationships with each other, not realizing they're half-siblings.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill changing the lawsuit provisions, but the new criminal charge faces a more complicated path. Corrections and Criminal Code Chairman Mike Young (R-Indianapolis) insisted on removing that provision, reassigning ithe bill to Judiciary only after winning Chairman Randy Head's (R-Logansport) promise to delete it. Indianapolis Senator Greg Taylor (D) is vowing to force a vote in the full Senate on restoring it, and the House version of the bill includes the new crime as well.

Young argues the law would be redundant -- he contends if prosecutors had the evidence, they could have charged Cline with deception, which includes "misrepresenting the identity of property with intent to defraud." Instead of adding new crimes, Young says he'd like to see legislators combine several narrowly-written laws -- there are separate deception crimes for identity theft, bad checks, false advertising, rolling back an odometer, bogus notary public services, and more.

Indiana University Maurer School of Law Professor Jody Madeira calls that argument "baloney." While fertility fraud is rare, it's not unprecedented, and Madeira says other states have confronted the same issue of criminal and civil laws which don't match the misconduct involved.

Social worker Liz White recounts for senators her discovery that her doctor had misrepresented the source of her artificial insemination 40 years ago. (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)

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