INDIANAPOLIS — Health care providers who perform deceptive fertility procedures could face criminal penalties, a provision added to a legislative bill introduced after a doctor reportedly used his own sperm to impregnate patients.

However, the bill currently contains no specific crime of fertility fraud as sought by some of the children sired by the doctor.

Instead, the health care provider, such as a physician, could be charged with deception, a Level 6 felony, if the misrepresentation relates to a medical procedure, device, drug or human reproductive material. 

On Thursday, Senate Bill 174 passed out of the Senate 49-0 with an amendment asking for a summer committee to study fertility laws. The bill now heads to the House.

State Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, said the revised bill was negotiated with half-siblings who found they were the offspring of a northside Indianapolis fertility doctor.

Sandlin authored the bill after about 35 women discovered they had reportedly been impregnated by Dr. Donald Cline who formerly had offices in Indianapolis. There are allegedly at least 40 half-siblings who have uncovered their connections through DNA tests.

Cline, now 80, of Zionsville, was stripped permanently of his Indiana medical license. In a Marion County criminal court, he was fined $500 and received a one-year suspended sentence in December 2017 for two counts of obstruction of justice after he lied to investigators from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office.

One of Cline's victims, Liz White, didn't know of his involvement in her pregnancy until 35 years after her son was born. Over a span of six visits, she was inseminated 15 times in Cline's office, she said. "For me, as a person, I was raped 15 times and didn't even know it," White said.

"Not only did she learn that it was her former fertility doctor, Dr. Donald Cline, who actually inseminated her, but this doctor was fathering as many as 50 other of the patients' children. Most of those lived in the same community," said State Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, a co-author of the bill. These acts in my opinion were clearly assault."

White lives in Ford's District 29.

At the time when Cline's case was being investigated, prosecutors said they could find no specific fertility fraud law to charge against the physician.

Initially, Sandlin's bill had a criminal provision that was removed at the request of Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, who said he didn't want the bill to slow down due to a felony element. The Indiana General Assembly has been backing away this session from some bills that toughen or extend sentences for crimes. 

Similar cases have cropped up around the country but have been resolved through civil lawsuits. In 1992, a Virginia doctor was convicted of fraud and perjury for lying to patients. The doctor, who used his own sperm for insemination, may have fathered up to 75 children.

In December, a Florida couple, Peter and Cheryl Rousseau, filed a federal lawsuit against a Vermont doctor alleging that their daughter was conceived in vitro in 1977 by a doctor using his own semen. The couple did not know of the doctor’s insemination until the daughter used DNA information to find out more about her biological father last year.

The physician, Dr. John Boyd Coates III, has filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying in part that Vermont’s Parentage Act, signed into law last year, prohibits the use of genetic testing to establish the parentage of a person who is a donor.

California’s surrogacy law in part allows intended parents to establish their parentage prior to a child’s birth. Those involved with the agreement are required to swear to its veracity under penalty of perjury.

In the late 1980s, the University of California at Irvine’s Center for Reproductive Health had more than 130 incidents in which eggs or embryos were either unaccounted for or stolen and given to women.

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