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New crime of 'fertility fraud' proposed in Indiana

3 December 2018
Appeared in BioNews 978

A proposed bill in Indiana would make it a crime for a doctor to use his own sperm during fertility treatment without the patient's consent. 

The proposal comes after the discovery that Dr Donald Cline, a fertility doctor from Indianapolis, used his own sperm to inseminate numerous patients in the 1970s and 1980s (see BioNews 931). Dr Cline's actions are not considered a crime under current Indiana law, and affected families have called for change. 

Professor Jody Lyneé Madeira, co-director of the Centre for Law, Society and Culture at Indiana University, said that Dr Cline's conduct 'represents the gravest of conflicts of interest into the physician-patient relationship'.

Jacoba Ballard is one of the children conceived using Dr Cline's sperm, and the initial investigation was triggered after she took a home DNA test in 2015. She told the Washington Post: 'My mother was violated. He took advantage of her in one of the most vulnerable moments of her life.' 

In 2017, Dr Cline was charged with obstruction of justice because he had misled investigators by denying that he had used his own sperm to inseminate his patients. The charge against him related to his deception of investigators only, and not to the deception of his patients. He received a one-year suspended sentence, a fine for US$500 and revocation of his medical licence.

Ballard feels that these sanctions were 'not enough to send a message'. She is one of around 50 people who believe that Dr Cline is their biological father and is now campaigning with a group of her half-siblings for new legislation to criminalise Dr Cline's actions. 

Senate Bill 239 would make it illegal for a doctor to use either his own sperm during fertility treatment without his patient's consent, or the 'reproductive material' of others without the donor's consent. 

Not everyone agrees that new legislation is required. Sean Tipton, chief policy officer for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine told the Washington Post: 'It's terribly obvious that for a physician to substitute his own sperm for donor sperm is an awful thing but it seems to be that there are existing legal remedies.' 

Dr Cline's case is far from unique, both in the USA and internationally. 

In Ottowa, Canada, there is a lobby for a ban on the sale of anonymous sperm and eggs after it was found that fertility doctor Dr Norman Barwin had used his own sperm in the treatment of 11 women (see BioNews 945). 

Last year, 12 donor-conceived people in The Netherlands claimed that they had been conceived with sperm from the fertility clinic's director, Dr Jan Karbaat, who ran the Medisch Centrum Bijdorp fertility clinic in Rotterdam (see BioNews 903).

Ballard and her group are hoping that the bill will be brought before the Indiana General Assembly again in January 2019. 

Fertility fraud: People conceived through errors, misdeeds in the industry are pressing for justice
The Washington Post |  22 November 2018
Praise For A Fertility Fraud Bill: Because Sperm-Switching Is Arguably Legal Right Now
Above the Law |  28 November 2018
Senate Bill 239
Indiana General Assembly |  27 October 2021
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13 May 2019 - by Suzi Denton 
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30 October 2017 - by Sarah Pritchard 
A retired US fertility doctor accused of using his own sperm to inseminate patients at his clinic will plead guilty to misleading investigators...
5 June 2017 - by Dr Rachel Montgomery 
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19 September 2016 - by Annabel Slater 
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