The new Fox show Almost Family has a pretty outlandish premise: A young woman who thought she was an only child discovers she actually has countless siblings because her father, a noted fertility doctor, impregnated women with his own sperm. TBH, it sounds like a story that could have been ripped right from the headlines, leaving many fans wondering: Is Almost Family based on a true story? While it's inspired by some controversial real-life events, Almost Family isn't based on any one event from real life. It's actually a remake of an Australian TV show called Sisters.
Almost Family stars Brittany Snow as Julia, who discovers her father (Timothy Hutton) is the biological father of countless IVF patients' children. Once the news is out, Julia somewhat reluctantly bonds with two of her sisters, Roxy (Emily Osment) and Edie (Megalyn Echikunwoke), as she deals with the fallout of her father's crimes. This story probably sounds familiar to Australian TV fans, since it's also the plot of the 2017 series Sisters, which is available on Netflix. There is no one story that directly inspired Sisters or Almost Family, but both shows did draw inspiration from reality. There have been several reported cases of doctors allegedly inseminating patients with their own semen without the patients' consent, and the consequences of those actions are very real to the people who were impacted.
According to The New York Times, cases of doctors allegedly inseminating their unknowing patients with their own sperm have started to surface somewhat regularly in recent years, thanks in part to the relatively new prevalence of at-home DNA tests like 23andMe and AncestryDNA. To illustrate how widespread this occurrence may be, The New York Times also reported that law professor Dr. Jody Madeira of Indiana University is following more than 20 cases of fertility fraud in several states in the U.S. and in other countries like England, South Africa, Germany, and the Netherlands.
One of the cases The New York Times story reported on sounds pretty similar to the story of Almost Family. In the 1970s and 1980s, according to the case, fertility doctor Donald Cline impregnated multiple women with his own sperm, and the newspaper reported in 2018 that at least three dozen people believed the man to be their biological father. Cline pleaded guilty in 2017 to two felony obstruction of justice charges. He received a one-year jail sentence, which, according to The New York Times, was suspended. He surrendered his medical license to the state of Indiana in August 2018.
Cline's case is just one of many similar stories. Dov Fox, a bioethicist at the University of San Diego, gave The New York Times his take on the apparent phenomenon, saying:
In a word, gross. In a couple more: shocking, shameful. The number of doctors sounds less like a few bad apples and more like a generalized practice of deception, largely hidden until recently by a mix of low-tech and high stigma.
The creators of Almost Family have said the show has some lighthearted elements, but they also plan to dive into the repercussions of this sort of unique, life-changing family situation. "There's going to be a very serious contending with what it meant to the people who didn't consent to this behavior," Almost Family executive producer Annie Weisman said, per Deadline. "We're also going to get into more complex motivations. In any story, it's important to feel empathy and understanding for a character, so we plan to get into that."
Almost Family airs on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.