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William E. May, Ph. D.,

Emeritus Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology,

Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family

at the Catholic University of America and

Senior Research Fellow, Culture of Life Foundation


I begin with a short description of C. S. Lewis’s 1943 book, The Abolition of Man and then summarize John Finnis’s insightful comments about the book. I then apply Lewis’s remarkable comments on contraception, both in the Abolition of Man and in his 1945 book, That Hideous Strength, to illuminate the moral difference between “begetting” children through the marital act and “making” them in laboratories. I then summarize the “donation” of sperm using the “Free Sperm Donor Registry” to illustrate how the separation of procreation from marriage has indeed ushered in the “culture of death.”

In The Abolition of Man Lewis beautifully refutes the claim, commonly made today, that the historic moral principles of Western Civilization are arbitrary and rooted in an outmoded Christian faith. He shows that this claim is spurious and that the great moral principles central to Christian faith are timeless and have been generally accepted by all civilized societies, at all times (until ours), that they constitute what the Chinese call the Tao, the “Way,” or what can be called the natural law.

In a remarkable paper, “C. S. Lewis and Test-Tube Babies,” 1 John Finnis says that the “The title [The Abolition of Man] is not the best thing about the book.” In the book Lewis refers to the “Conditioners.”By this term he means those human beings who use various mind-controlling techniques to get others, “lesser” humans, to do what they want them to do. He writes that  “the Conditioners,” -- men “who have stepped outside the Tao and into the void [and men made subject to them], are not men at all; they are artifacts” (p. 37). Finnis doesn’t believe “Lewis really thought that [they are not men at all but merely artifacts].” To show why he doesn’t believe Lewis really thought this,  Finnis (p. 283) cites an illuminating passage from Lewis’s letter to an Anglican nun of February 20, 1943, when he was giving the Riddell Memorial Lecture at Oxford from which Abolition of Man developed. In his letter Lewis wrote: “‘Creation’ as applied to human authorship…seems to me an entirely misleading term….We re-arrange elements He has provided. There is not a vestige of real creativity de novo in us” (cited by Finnis, p. 283).

Finnis thus declares: “… the real theme of the Riddell Lecture (and of the Abolition) was not the abolition of man but the enslavement of man—the enslavement of the Conditioners, who repudiate the Tao, by their own necessarily irrational impulses, and the enslavement of all the rest by the Conditioners” (p. 284). Finnis then cites numerous passages from the Abolition to illustrate this.

Finnis concludes his essay by pointing out that Lewis does not speak of “making” babies in test tubes in the Abolition of Man; rather he speaks of “contraception” both in the Abolition (p.40) and in his 1945 book That Hideous Strength. In both works, but especially in That Hideous Strength, Lewis thought deeply about what happens when procreation is removed from marriage as integral and essential to its meaning. The generation of human life is then transformed from procreation to reproduction, “a form of production,” Finnis says, “entailing the radical maker-producer relationship of total domination (for however benevolent motives, perhaps) and marital intercourse becomes a kind of mutual masturbation in which even mutual involvement will be set aside if the experience will thereby be enhanced” (p. 281). Later, however, “Lewis was to become, like so many Christians, reticent and uncertain, and accepting of contraception.” 2

“Begetting” vs. “Making” Babies

Despite Lewis’s later acceptance of contraception, it is nonetheless useful to apply Lewis’s distinction between procreation or the begetting of children and reproduction or making babies in laboratories.

If a baby is begotten in and through the marital act, he or she comes to be as the fruit of that act, as a “gift” supervening the act and crowning it, as it were. That act, moreover is unique. It is an act common to both the wife and the husband; in it they give themselves to and receive one another in a bodily act that literally makes them to be “one flesh.” That act, in addition, is not simply a heterosexual genital  act between a man and a woman who just “happen” to be married, but it is a marital or conjugal act, one proper and exclusive to spouses. It is proper and exclusive to them because they, unlike non-married men and women, have already, by giving and receiving one another in the act of irrevocable personal consent to marry, given themselves the identity of spouses. The man became this particular woman’s husband, and she became this particular man’s wife. And just as each of them is an irreplaceable, non-substitutable, and non-disposable person, so too the child they beget is an irreplaceable, non-substitutable, and non-disposable person.

But a baby “made” by in vitro fertilization or other forms of “reproductive technology” comes to be as a “product,” indeed, as the end-product of a series of activities of production: a man and a woman, whether married or not, supply the sperm and ova used as the raw materials by laboratory technicians to produce a zygote which, when grown to be an embryo, is implanted in the womb of a woman. This woman  can be the same one whose ova were used in its production or a different one, to be nurtured there until birth. But as a product it is not an irreplaceable, non-substitutable, non-disposable person, but rather a product inferior to its producers and subject to quality controls.  And such controls are used in the making of babies in the laboratory.  They are first used in “monitoring” development in the petri dishes and, if some anomalies are discovered, the products are cast aside, and such monitoring continues after implantation through such procedures as amniocentesis. Moreover, today to increase the likelihood that implantation will occur technicians give the women whose ova are retrieved hyperovulating drugs so that many ova can then be fertilized in the petri dish, with several implanted and the others cryopreserved and stored in canisters for future use or destruction, etc.

Lewis’s great insight

Lewis’s trenchant critique of contraception provides us with an important insight: the marital or conjugal act is inseparably unitive and procreative, i.e., it is the kind of bodily act, and the only kind of bodily act, fitting or apt both to unite husband and wife in an intimacy of conjugal love and to open themselves to the gift of new human life, for it is itself a procreative kind of act. If this is true, and if making babies in laboratories is an act characteristic of the culture of death, it seems to follow that contraception can rightly be called the “gateway” to the culture of death.

Donating sperm using the “Free Sperm Donor Registry”

Newsweek ‘s October 10 and 17 issue featured an article, “The Coffee Shop Baby: Meet a ‘Donorsexual’ on the Web and He’ll Service You Anywhere” by Tony Dokoupil, pp. 46-48.Dokoupil begins with the story of Beth Gardner and “her wife, Nicole.” This lesbian couple wanted a child but did not want to go the route of using the fertility clinics that have sprung up throughout the US since 1978 . They found an on-line service offering free sperm from men who would identify themselves and visit any children conceived.  They met one donor, whom they had investigated, at a coffee shop; he went into the restroom and “donated” his sperm into a plastic cup that he left in the rest room. Nicole followed him in and attached the cup to her cervix. Then, “as nature took its course, the three [Nicole, Beth, and the donor} sat down for coffee together. But a conception did not follow. 

Beth and Nicole founded their own FSDR, “Free Sperm Donor Registry, ‘a sleek, user-friendly portal that works like a kind of dating site, only the women are listed as ‘recipients’ and the men as ‘donors’” (p. 46).  Dokoupil then writes: “Reproductive medicine is as close to miracle work as humans can muster; it has supplemented the stork with the syringe, creating thousands of new lives annually where none seemed possible. But in lifting the fog around infertility, doctors have moved nature’s most intimate act deeper into the lab, and created a population of prospective parents—straight, gay, single and married—who crave a more human connection (p. 46). That need is now being met by sites like FSDR, which joins a global boom in the exchange of free, fresh sperm between strangers” (p. 47).

One reason why these ‘free sperm donor registries” have blossomed is the high cost of resorting to the sperm banks maintained by the fertility clinics that have, since 1978, proliferated to “help” couples, married or not, to have “a child of their own.” The donor pool in the US, Dokoupil points out, “is still large in the US, where college kids can make as much as $12,000  a year from sperm banks for anonymous twice weekly donations” (p. 47). Dokoupil notes that recently, despite being regulated by the FDA, sperm with many diseases and disorders has been sold by these clinics to hundreds of men; moreover, some sperm recipients are rebelling against the anonymity of the donor requirement. All this has contributed to the creation of Free Donor Sperm websites (p. 47).

But “of course, the market for free sperm raises its own set of questions. What if a donor sues for custody? What if he lies about an STD?What if his real motive is sex—and would that even matter?” (p. 47)

To answer these questions Dokoupil registered at an FSDR and spent two months following internet chats, discussions etc. He then reported his findings. Here are some major ones.

“Many of the women want to reproduce on their own terms, while they still can [reproduce—some are widowed, others married to men who don’t produce sperm, others aborted a baby and would like one now etc]. Most FSDR’s users are lesbian couples or would-be single mothers” (p. 47). “Donors on FDSR are a bawdier mix of high intentions and caveman dreams….Many donors say they are motivated  not by sex so much as by a desire to spawn as many children as possible [and many prefer to donate not by AI (artificial insemination) but in “the natural way” (p. 47).

Some want to propagate because they have the IQs of geniuses and want to enrich the genetic pool. Perhaps the best example of this is Trent Arsenault,  a  36 year old  former Navy midshipman now working in the Silicon Valley. He is a free-lance donor working the web and has donated his sperm to 50 women mostly in the San Francisco Bay area is now being charged by the FDA as operating a business that does not provide adequate protection against communicable diseases while engaging in the  recovery, processing, storing, packaging and selling sperm. He likes to describe himself as a ‘donorsexual’ and boasts that in a short time he will be “the 40 year old virgin with 15 kids” p. 48).

Separating procreation from marriage and the marital act unquestionally, as this phenomenon shows, leads to sexual suicide and the culture of death


1. The paper was given in 1984 to the C. S. Lewis Society of Oxford University and was first published in John Finnis, Human Rights and Common Good,Vol. III of his Collected Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp.273-281.

2. See Lewis’s letter to Mrs. E. L. Baxter, August 19, 1947, in Hooper, C. S. Lewis, Collected Letters,  p.798.

Copyright ©; William E. May 2011

Version: 26th October 2011

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