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The Fertility Doctor’s Secret

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2019

For The Atlantic, Sarah Zhang tells the story of dozens of people who found out through DNA testing that a fertility doctor named Donald Cline had used his own sperm in artificial insemination procedures on their mothers. The piece begins with the story of a woman whose parents had been treated by Cline more than 30 years ago.

It was only when she got home and replaced her phone that she saw the barrage of messages from even more half siblings. They had found her on Facebook, she realized, after searching for the username linked to her Ancestry.com account. Her husband had given her a DNA test for Christmas because she was interested in genealogy. Her heritage turned out to be exactly what she had thought — Scottish, with English, Irish, and Scandinavian mixed in — and she never bothered to click on the link that would show whether anyone on the site shared her DNA.

Apparently she did have relatives on Ancestry.com — and not just distant cousins. The people now sending her messages said they were Cline’s secret biological children. They said their parents had also been treated by Cline. They said that decades ago, without ever telling his patients, Cline had used his own sperm to impregnate women who came to him for artificial insemination.

According to her DNA, Woock, too, was one of his children.

In the time since Woock’s half siblings got in touch with her, they have broken the news dozens more times. The children Cline fathered with his patients now number at least 48, confirmed by DNA tests from 23andMe or Ancestry.com. (Several have a twin or other siblings who likely share the same biological father but haven’t been tested.) They keep in touch through a Facebook group. New siblings pop up in waves, timed perversely after holidays like Christmas or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, when DNA tests are given as well-intentioned gifts.

One of Cline’s patients said recently: “I feel like I was raped 15 times.”