Netflix’s Our Father is a new docufilm that’s available to stream now – these are the moments that left us most astounded.
Content note: this article contains references to and descriptions of sexual assault and medical malpractice that readers may find upsetting.
When it comes to Netflix documentaries, they’re of an entirely different calibre. From the way they’re shot to the interviews, research and subject matter – the documentaries that grace the streaming platform hold a special place on our watchlists.
Our Father, on top of having a viral trailer, was always going to grab people’s attention. A renowned fertility doctor – Donald Cline – inseminating women with his own sperm? We know, it sounds like something out of a fiction novel and not actually real-life.
Add to that, the fact that illicit donor inseminations were only made illegal in 2018 by the mothers and siblings at the heart of this case and there’s a very chilling undercurrent to this documentary. As well as being a shocking film, it underlines the ever-important topic of women’s rights, fertility and malpractice.
The documentary may have just landed on Netflix today but we were sure to note down the moments that had our jaws scraping the floor – and trust us, they will do the same for you too.
With that, scroll on for the parts of Our Father that left us in shock.
1. That this whole scandal was only uncovered through Jacoba’s own DNA research via an online ancestry website
There’s a lot to be said about Jacoba Ballard, but if you’ve watched the documentary, you’ll know she’s nothing less than an icon. Blonde haired and blue eyed in a family of people with dark hair and dark eyes led Jacoba to seek out some clarity around her family history.
But her 23andMe test in 2014 revealed that she had seven half-siblings from an unknown father. She says in the documentary that she felt “immediate excitement” but was left confused because her mum was told that the doctors never used a donor more than three times.
We dread to think what would’ve happened if Jacoba hadn’t done that DNA test but the fact that it led to the dreaded truth being uncovered is shocking in itself.
2. Cline artificially inseminated women who already had their own husband or donor’s sperm ready to use
Of course, Donald Cline inseminating women with his own sperm is the most shocking part about this entire film, but just when you thought it could get any worse, it does. We learn that Cline was not only inseminating women who were using sperm donors, but he was also using his own sperm to inseminate women who had brought their partner’s sperm into the doctor’s office.
We hear from Julie Harmon, who had lived her life thinking her father was her biological father until seeing Jacoba on the news. She agreed they had an uncanny resemblance, but her gut feeling told her there was more to explore here. Her mother, Dianna Kiesler, thought that Jacoba’s case didn’t apply to Julie because Dianna always thought she was inseminated with her husband’s sperm.
Their account is – like all the others in this documentary – an emotional one and Julie admits that finding out about Cline was the “hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. It just completely washes away your identity.”
Likewise, Dianna had to tell her husband that Julie is not his biological daughter, although his sperm was supposed to have been used. She says: “I had to figure out a way to tell my husband because I knew that it was going to devastate him.”
Julie’s thinking mirrors that of the viewer, as she says: “It’s hard – what did he do with my dad’s sperm? He just threw it away like it was nothing? That’s just wrong.”
3. Quiverfull theory
We should’ve guessed that a story about a man in power was going to boil down to a cult theory, right? With Cline never having given an explanation – apart from the fact he wanted to help “desperate women” – for his actions, the siblings are left to consider what made the fertility doctor act in such a way.
His office was filled with Christian scriptures, paraphernalia and, upon meeting some of the siblings for the first time, he proceeded to try to hand Jacoba a piece of paper with Jeremiah 1:5 written on it.
The verse reads: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
It is also the popular scripture of the Quiverfull cult movement, a conservative Christian group that ultimately believes that large families are a blessing. Children are viewed as arrows to shoot out into the world, Jacoba explains in the documentary, in the hopes that one day, they may rise to positions of prominence and power in the world.
Underlying that belief, though, is one of racism. As mentioned in the documentary, the Quiverfull child-rearing belief is cemented in a fear that the other races are “infiltrating” the white race. Jacoba reflects on all the siblings’ blonde hair and blue eyes: “It’s almost like we’re like this perfect Aryan clan and it’s disgusting.”
4. What Cline did was not considered a crime
Perhaps the most shocking part of this documentary is the fact that all of this ultimately ended in nothing happening.
Taking her case to Fox59 news and the district attorney, Jacoba was told by Tim Delaney, former prosecutor of Marion County, Indianapolis, that it cannot be counted as rape or battery. In the documentary, Delaney says: “At the end of the day, there’s just no crime that touches this particular act. That’s our problem.”
It’s only because Cline lied about using his sperm and fathering these people in a letter to the district attorney that he was tried in court. He got a suspended one year sentence, but aside from that, Cline was never charged with anything.
5. Cline wanted to sue his own daughter for libel and slander
You know how we said earlier that Jacoba is one of our favourite parts of the documentary? Well, it’s mainly because of her unwavering drive to bring Cline’s actions to the forefront.
But in her quest for the truth and for the court to sentence him, Jacoba was not only eerily threatened by Cline over the phone – he also stated in the letter to the DA that he was going to sue Jacoba for libel and slander.
6. Sibling #61
All of the stories in this documentary deserve their own film, to be honest, but perhaps one of the more shocking tales – on account of how the documentary set it up – was Alison Kramer’s account.
She shares how she found out about this whole debacle after taking a 23andMe test and speaking with Jacoba after seeing her appear on Dr Phil. But that’s not the twist.
The jaw-dropping revelation came when we found out who her parents were – Shereen and Mark Farber, close friends of Cline’s. Up until this shocking point in the documentary, they’ve shared anecdotes about Cline’s personality, but we don’t learn that he was actually Shereen’s fertility doctor until later on in the documentary.
He not only inseminated Shereen unknowingly with his own sperm, but remained a close family friend and role model of Alison’s throughout her life. And just when you don’t think you can take another twist, we learn that Cline was actually Alison’s fertility doctor too. It’s the type of TV moment that leaves you with chills, that’s for certain.
7. Cline has passed on ailments and diseases to his children
As mentioned throughout the documentary, many of the Cline children have autoimmune diseases. But former friend and colleague Mark Farber also shares that Cline had rheumatoid arthritis that threatened his career.
It’s safe to say that Cline was far from being in the best shape and it’s a chilling fact that stays with you after watching. His former medical partner, Robert Colver, explains that 30% of the guys who applied to be donors didn’t even make it past the questionnaire because of medical issues in their family. Cline definitely wouldn’t have made it past that stage.
8. This isn’t an isolated case of doctors using their own sperm to inseminate patients
We learn in the closing moments of the documentary that, thanks to at-home DNA testing, 44 additional doctors have been found to have used their own sperm to inseminate fertility patients.
Cline is the most prolific of these doctors, and as of the release of the Netflix film, there are currently 94 Cline siblings and counting.
Our Father is now available to stream on Netflix.