In the midst of true crime documentaries, no one expected Netflix to release something like Our Father. It chronicles the story of multiple people who discovered they all had the same biological father: Dr. Donald Cline. Many of these people believed that the fathers who raised them were their biological fathers, but their lives turned upside down when they (and their mothers) learned that Dr. Cline secretly donated his sperm to their conception.
It’s a harrowing story that seems too wild to be true — at the end of the documentary, we learn that there are currently 94 Cline siblings and counting. But is this a true story?
Laura High explains how and why ‘Our Father’ is a true story.
While the infertility industry has been operating widely under the radar, Laura High grew to popularity after sharing videos on TikTok about what it means to be a donor-conceived person and the issues that come along with the industry.
As far as we know, Dr. Cline secretly inseminated his patients between 1979 to 1986, and there were basically no regulations in the infertility industry at this time. Shockingly, however, there are still very few regulations.
“Basically the clinic just matched the donors to the dads as best they could between hair color, eye color, and ethnic background,” Laura explained of the '80s in an exclusive interview with Distractify. “And it was so weird because the number one thing the clinic matched before anything else was religion.”
At Laura's donor clinic, parents would did not get to choose the donor, but they were told things like, “he was an Ivy League doctor.”
“The infertility industry today is exceptionally unregulated,” Laura shared. “There’s only one requirement for donors nationwide. They have to get an STD test. That's it. There's no height requirement. There's no background checks. There's no genetic testing. They don't even have to verify their medical records.”
Laura shared that while Our Father is an extreme version of a very typical occurrence, that it is a true story. “I actually do know one of the people who [is] on it. I know one of the siblings, so I do know what happens,” she iterated. “It's hideous, like it is genuinely the thing of nightmares. But that's not the only time that's happened. Not even a little bit, not even close. This is not a unique story to the infertility industry.”
There are other stories like ‘Our Father,’ but people like Laura want to change that.
Laura joked about Our Father, “That’s my story on crack.”
Born in 1987 in New York City, Laura learned that she was donor-conceived at the age of 14 years old. “It was arguably the funniest conversation I had because my dad started it with, ‘Laura, do you know how babies are made?’ And I was 14 and an a—hole and I just was like, ‘Yeah, dad. I've seen Skinemax.’” In all seriousness, though, Laura said it was “both surprising but at the same time it wasn't. It answered so many questions.”
This experience doesn’t sound so dissimilar to many of the ones we hear about in Our Father, in which people such as Jacoba Ballard and Julie Harmon feel like discovering they had a different father than they thought answered some questions. But it also posed more questions.
Laura's parents were told that the donor was Christian, Scottish, and Irish. But when she took a DNA test alongside her mother to compare, Laura’s came back 50 percent Ashkenazi, while her mother had zero, which means that Laura’s parents were lied to about her donor.
“I got a message on my Ancestry.com and it was from a woman who wrote, ‘It says we're really closely related. How on earth are we so closely related?’” Laura shared. “She is the cousin of my donor. I found him. I found my donor. And he is an extremely devout Ashkenazi Jew. He is an ob-gyn. He is an Orthodox Rabbi Mohel. Now we could look basically from where his office is to my mother's fertility doctor’s office. They are a block away from each other. These guys knew each other.”
Laura began discovering her own siblings, just like the Cline siblings in Our Father. The first sibling she found was born in 1982, and they found two other siblings born in between them, which means that their donor donated for at least six years in New York City. “So we've talked to the donor sibling registry and they're like, ‘You might easily have over 50 siblings, you need to be ready.’”
How is all of this possible? Well, the fact that there are no regulations plays a part. “The only thing the FDA requires the clinics to check for the donors is an STD test. No background check, no genetic testing. There's no psych evaluation. There's nothing. And my favorite” — Laura uses “favorite” ironically — “Is that there is no cap on how many babies can be produced by one donor. So technically, nothing they did was illegal. So legally, I might have 50 siblings walking around out there.”
Laura began making videos on TikTok to spread the word about the infertility industry. And now with documentaries like Our Father and Baby God, as well as DNA testing and a whole community of people talking about the industry on social media, many more people are learning how flawed the system is.
Thanks to Laura and other advocates for better infertility practices, laws are starting to get voted on in both state and federal legislatures. Colorado actually just passed a law that bans anonymity in donor conception.
“The whole industry needs to be remade so that it is child-centered,” Laura explained. How can we help? “Call your local legislators and say, ‘I want what Colorado is serving.’”
Our Father is now available to stream on Netflix.