“The Fertility Doctor’s Secret,” a longform report for The Atlantic about doctor Donald Cline of Indianapolis, reports dozens of facts — but is bound to disappoint readers who are reasonably informed about Christian teaching on infertility.
There are mere traces of religion in Sarah Zhang’s coverage, and too little digging deeper on remarks that beg for attention. In other word, this story has religion-shaped holes in it.
But first the basic narrative: Cline, who opened his clinic in 1979, is believed to be the father of at least eight children by virtue of using his sperm to impregnant unknowing patients.
That this story has come to light is one of the perverse miracles of connecting through Facebook and discovering the secrets of one’s DNA through consumer-focused DNA testing offered by 23andMe and Ancestry.com.
We’re told twice that Cline cited Bible verses to these now-grown humans, which raises some interesting factual questions. Zhang presents a sole example:
For months, nothing much happened. Then one of [Jacoba] Ballard’s half sisters went for it. She found Cline’s children — those he raised with his wife — and his adult grandchildren on Facebook and sent them a group message. A granddaughter replied, saying she didn’t know anything and couldn’t help.
But then, Ballard says, she got a message from Cline’s son. He had been looking through her Facebook photos and recognized her priest — he said he was Catholic too. He helped broker a meeting between his father and six of the siblings at a restaurant. Cline, who was then in his late 70s, walked in with a cane.
Ballard remembers this first family reunion of sorts as oddly matter-of-fact. Cline admitted to using his own sperm but said the records had been destroyed years ago. He asked each of the siblings what they did and where they lived. He read them Bible verses from a notepad. Ballard saw this as a misguided attempt to comfort her, and she snapped at him: “Don’t try to use my religion.”
Late in the story — in the 101st paragraph, to be specific — Zhang reveals only one example of Bible-thumping: