Written by Bianca Sprague + Meg Kant
Violated and Grateful, Lessons from ‘Our Father’ on Netflix: The horrifying documentary showing the undeniable truth that the world hates women
Note on language: for the purposes of this article we will be using the term women/woman, however we want to acknowledge that not all people who have uteri identify under this term. There are additional nuances surrounding reproduction and two-spirited, gender non-conforming, nonbinary, transgender folks, etc. with uteri to consider; This is a great starting resource to support clinicians and care providers on this topic.
Dr. Cline from ‘Our Father’ has hit a collective nerve, and women are f*cking furious, and for good reason. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the Netflix documentary, it shares the true story of Dr. Donald Cline, a fertility doctor, who used his own sperm to impregnate his clients without their consent. At the time of filming there were 94 confirmed cases of children unknowingly born with Cline’s DNA.
Watching the documentary you cannot help but feel horrified at the actions that Dr. Cline has taken. His lack of empathy, lack of respect for bodily autonomy, lack of consent and disregard for reproductive rights are abhorrent. The documentary is a microscope into understanding how unsafe women’s bodies are; that even the professionals that we are supposed to trust the most harm us immeasurably.
Cline isn’t the only one
Additionally, it is haunting that Dr. Cline is not the only doctor to have done this, thanks to genetic testing, 44 other doctors have been confirmed as using their own sperm to impregnate their patients without consent of use of their specimen. Yes, 44 other fertility doctors believed that their sperm sample was a superior option to that of the woman’s partner or chosen donor. Those practitioners made that choice without even dignifying the women with a conversation about whose sperm was being placed in their vaginas.
You would think that these reprehensible acts would be considered crimes and that justice should be clear and swift. **Spoiler Alert** Even though 94 cases have been confirmed with DNA evidence, Dr. Cline has not been charged with a single count from the actions he took upon impregnating his own clients.
In contrast, Cline was charged with obstruction of justice, not because of a single thing done to a woman – but because he lied in his email to (a man) at the Attorney General’s office. For this he received an insulting $500 fine and words of love and encouragement from the justice presiding over his case. This type of empathy and compassion was never shown to the women he violated and the children he spawned whose lives were uprooted and destroyed. In fact, the victim impact statement read by one of his daughters was objected to and she was silenced in court.
He clearly breached the Hippocratic Oath in violating the rights of his patients, but he also knowingly passed on an autoimmune disease – something that would prevent him from being a sperm donor in any regular circumstances.
Women are not safe anywhere
There is no comfortable or easy way around the fact that this is violence against women and an unwillingness to recognize and honour our experience and cries against being violated. Women are mad. We are so f*cking mad. Regardless of the bullshit we have been placated with around notions of equality and equity, the actions of our society and our legal system speak volumes against those concepts.
We are not safe. Not in our homes, our workplaces, our doctors offices or in our communities. We are burdened with the task of “keeping ourselves safe” but where the f*ck are we supposed to go to be safe?
The men in power, in our homes and our communities have shown us time and time again that they don’t give a shit about us or our bodies so how/what/when/where are we supposed to be safe anywhere?
Cline, and the additional 44 fertility doctors who impregnated their clients without their clients knowledge wanted all of the glory of spreading their seed and none of the grit. They left that to the women who were forced to unknowingly raise these men’s children. Society gives men permission to opt-out of the support of children. They have the luxury of knowing women do the global-majority of unpaid and ‘second shift’ work. They do not lose any social standing for doing so and they have the possibility of economic growth not afforded to the women left responsible for all of the unpaid labor.
Apparently consent doesn’t matter
A hurdle the Attorney’s General Office noted they would face if they pursued legal action is that a jury would note empathize with the women who were impregnated by Cline. The sentiment was ‘they wanted to have a baby, and they got a baby. What is the issue?’ The undertone of this comment is that women are expected to shut up, be grateful for their pregnancy/children regardless of the circumstances of their conception.
It doesn’t matter that they did not consent to the use of Dr. Clines sperm, nor the fact they were not informed of his autoimmune disease. These women are supposed to just be grateful for motherhood.
We hear this same sentiment in our current hospital birthing practices, where the saying “healthy mom, healthy baby” only references both parties having a beating heart at the end of it. It doesn’t matter that huge percentages of birthers experience birth trauma, or develop a perinatal mood disorder, as long as the baby and themselves are breathing. Because our capitalist economy needs mothers to be breathing and breeding to continue to supply and support producing offspring for the workforce. She is making new workers for the economy and, in the case of Cline, white citizens for the state that perpetuates a puritan, white settler, status quo.
Let’s talk about the parentage part. The grit. The hard, messy, never-ending, unpaid job of raising children. Side note: We believe that much more than genetics make a family member. However, we will move forward using the language of ‘father’ as it was used within the documentary by Dr. Cline’s victims. He knew he was their father. He never offered any support, financial, time or otherwise, to these women. He was never concerned about the mother’s or his offsprings’ well being, health, or lives.
He never even felt remorse
As the pressure of potential public shame from outing him as the father to almost a hundred and counting offspring grew, Dr. Cline pleaded for secrecy and mercy because he felt uncomfortable with the world knowing what he did. He did not want his wife to know. It is funny that he showed concern for her then because at what other point did he consider his wife? While he was spreading his seed while she was doing unpaid labour raising her and Dr. Cline’s known biological children? Was it while he was mastubating in the room next to vulnerable and unclothed female patients? Or was it while he was putting his seed inside these patients without their consent? Maybe it was when he would hold these babies, his sons and daughters, during the follow up & postpartum appointments.
He misused his power, profession and the preconceived notions of legitimacy that came with it. And yet it is the mothers, their partners and their children that have suffered the consequences from his actions.
How has Dr. Cline not lost his medical license or had any legal consequences for his actions?
Even if you are one of the folks that would disagree that the world hates women, or that there was no crime here, Dr. Cline did not act in his patient’s best interest from the beginning. He would not have been allowed to donate sperm to a bank as he had an autoimmune disease – one of which he passed on to all of his offspring. He threw away viable sperm brought in by the patient’s – belonging to their husbands, partners or donors – to use his own sperm with known health issues.
These children of Dr. Cline lived in the same city, which carries a high risk for issues surrounding consanguinity… the risk of reproducing with a sibling and not knowing it! Sperm banks use a limited number of samples in a geographical area for this reason. He used his sample repeatedly in a small geographical region. The potential reproductive consequences of this are severe.
The lack of justice for these mother’s and their children is evidence of how little our medical and legal systems care about women. The behemothic institutions have protected Dr. Cline as he repeatedly sexually violated hundreds of women. This is the beauty of the Men’s Network, where men protect, promote, form business partnerships with one another and prioritize their own personal successes.
The Attorney General’s office could not find a crime in Dr. Cline’s actions. The office did say, explicitly, that it was a sexual violation but legally it was not a sexual violation. There was not ‘force used’. The man representing the attorney general’s office felt these women opened their legs willingly. There was no force. They wanted a baby and they got a baby. Case closed.
It was not legally a sexual violation
Why has the US not punished Dr. Cline at the state or federal level? How has he been allowed to continue to hold his medical license? Why did he do this? Simply put, due to primitive accumulation. This is a Marxist term that, in its most basic definition, refers to the gathering of resources essential to production. According to Silvia Federcici, this process continues within capitalism through the commodification of women’s bodies and labour. You know, women do free labour as well as raise future labourers. Capitalism cannot exist without the free labour of women and mothers. She is making new workers for the economy and, in the case of Cline, white citizens for the state that perpetuates a puritan, white settler, status quo.
The lack of consent in the case of Cline shows this clearly as the women and their bodies are used as mere tools for production – their subjectivity only recognized when later, they are labeled as “emotional” or “irrational” in their actions and response to the violation of their own bodies. This was validated by the state as they see no crime in what he did to these women.
While abhorrent, it makes sense that women who were violated would not receive legal protection within our system. Think about it – “tools” are not granted the rights and legal protection of citizens. A complete disregard for women’s autonomy and their ability to control their own bodies is upheld on the basis that those bodies are mere tools for production; and NOT a human body worthy of dignity and respect.
Our autonomy is not respected
In a time when we are fighting; fighting tooth and nail for our human rights, the men that are harming us are clearly untouchable, that even when there is evidence proving they have committed crimes, they get to enjoy their freedom.
In a period of time when abortion in the United States is under attack, a Doctor can without any legal ramifications impregnate his client, without their consent leaves us all very vulnerable. The debate around abortion does not have anything to do with terminating a pregnancy, but in fact it is entirely about controlling women’s bodies. Dr. Cline, and the other doctors who abused their position of power, have shown that it doesn’t matter what you do to our bodies, that they get to choose and they do not need to be held responsible for their actions.
We are tired and mad
So many women are mad, disappointed and tired. We keep showing up, doing our best and begging for the systems in place to protect us, to prove that our wellbeing matters. At times we can start to believe that things are different now than it used to be, now women are treated as equals. But then we see a documentary like Our Father and are hit with the stark reality that we are not protected, the systems are failing us. No one cares about the abuse of our bodies or autonomy. We have to work so f*cking hard to be heard, taken seriously and just given the basics of human rights.
What the systems in place do not seem to recognize that this undercurrent of women’s rage is a force to be reckoned with. Women’s anger leads to revolutions and revolts. We are not sitting idly by while our freedoms and autonomy are being questioned.
We call you to push back against these forces that harm us, silence us, say we should be grateful for what we have. We’re tired, yes. And there’s fuel in our rage. It will ignite you again. We promise.
Protest. Write letters. Vote. Rage.
Say ‘No More!’.
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