A seminal Johnny Appleseed and the business of vice

The Wall Street Journal recent front page feature on a sperm “donor” who has “fathered” 96 children details an unbroken chain of moral malfeasance played out in today’s cultural wastelands.

(Image: Juliane Liebermann/Unsplash.com)

On Monday, August 28th, the Wall Street Journal offered a front page feature on “A Sperm Donor’s Quest to See Kids: Man chases a role in the lives of the 96 children he fathered.” The article reads like an outrageous satire of a sexually dysfunctional society, but there is not a trace of irony in it, which makes it all the more bizarre. It is also an unintended morality tale of the consequences of the commercialization of vice.

This is a hard article to write because some of the material is obscene. Consider this a trigger-warning. On the other hand, the story draws upon some of the finest instincts and sentiments of the human heart for motherhood and fatherhood. It shows what happens when those are displaced, moved so far out of the natural moral order as to make them unrecognizable. This is part of what happens when people use their human powers for purposes outside of the ends that those powers are meant to serve. Confusion reigns, even over who the father and the mother might be. And behind it all is missing what was long regarded as a fundamental truth–that children are a gift. One cannot demand that they be given. Of course, one’s heart naturally goes out to a married heterosexual couple that cannot conceive, but what of those homosexual couples who won’t because they are unwilling to engage in the heterosexual act that makes conception possible?

This story is largely about them and what is done to facilitate their refusal by employing extraordinary means to give them the gift they nevertheless demand.

This couldn’t happen without modern Johnny Appleseeds of a seminal variety like Dylan Stone-Miller. As a college student, the Journal tells us, he supplemented his income with sperm “donations” for which he made $100 each. “Donation” is an odd choice of words for this practice, as donations are usually freely given. Otherwise, church donors would be taking money from the basket instead of putting it in. In any case, Dylan kept up his “donations” for six years. Now he’s curious about the consequences, of which they’re known to be 96. However, he admits, “I will never know for sure how many children I have,” which seems a bit heedless.

It is never the case that only one thing goes morally wrong. All sorts of supportive wrongs come to its aid. As we shall see here, there is an unbroken chain of moral malfeasance. Let’s start with masturbating into a dish. According to the Stanford University website, “the donation process is simple. The man walks into a private room which is usually stocked with pornography and masturbates into a sterile container.”

A more detailed description of the procedure from a sperm bank at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City makes it seem not so simple:

If you choose to go to KU Reproductive Center, you will sign in at the front desk. Someone will call your name and take you to a private-examination room. You will have your own room (your guardian will stay in the waiting room!). There will be a TV with a DVD player, a sink to wash your hands and a comfortable recliner. Prior to masturbation, you will need to write your name and date of birth on the cup, then wash your hands. You will use self-stimulation to masturbate into the sterile cup that is provided. Leave your specimen in the room. Once you are ­finished, you will push a button, leave the room and exit out the back. You do not have to walk back through the waiting room. You and your guardian can pre-arrange to meet at the car or another designated spot. If you are over 18, you can bring a partner with you to the room to help stimulate you. Sperm cannot be collected using oral sex or lubrication.

How interesting that provision is made for the “donors” to sneak out the back of the building, as if they have done something shameful, which, of course, they have.

In an earlier age, a place in which there are select rooms for men to meet others for the purpose of gaining their aid in achieving masturbatory sexual climax was called a house of ill repute or a whore house, and the helper was called a hooker. Some sperm banks offer the stimulant of in-house pornography for those having trouble completing their “donation,” while others provide DVD players and a screen for the BYOP (bring your own pornography) crowd. The persons enticing others to engage in this behavior were called procurers or procuresses. Panderer also works. Since the onanists are paid for their services they, too, could be classed as prostitutes, or perhaps as gigolos for the repeat performers.

One should not forget the pornographers in the chain of moral turpitude. Those participating in pornographic acts for filming are degrading themselves, as are those producing them and making the images available to degrade others. Of course, the consumers, facilitated by the sperm banks, are soiled by watching the porn.

The San Diego Sperm Bank offers some doozies regarding what motivates and justifies someone to be a sperm donor, with a section under “Personal Values and Ethical Considerations.” It contains some of the most blatant rationalizations for a morally disordered act that I have encountered. Rationalizations are always required for evil acts. As I explained in Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything:

Rationalizations for moral misbehavior work like this. Anyone who chooses an evil act must present it to himself as good; otherwise, as Aristotle taught, he would be incapable of choosing it. When we rationalize, we convince ourselves that heretofore forbidden desires are permissible. As Hilaire Belloc wrote, “Every evil is its own good.” In our minds we replace the reality of the moral order to which the desires should be subordinated with something more compatible with the activity we are excusing. Or as Professor J. Budziszewski put it, “We seek not to become just, but to justify ourselves.” In short, we assert that bad is good.

The general rule is, the bigger the lie allowing the immoral act, the larger the rationalization for it is.

So, here is how the self-justification is done in San Diego:

For some, sperm donation aligns with their personal values and ethical beliefs. They may see it as a way to promote reproductive freedom and the right to choose, helping individuals and couples overcome biological barriers to parenthood. These donors are motivated by a sense of social responsibility and a commitment to helping others exercise their reproductive autonomy. Motivations that drive individuals to become sperm donors are multifaceted and diverse. While financial incentives and personal curiosity can play a role, the desire to make a positive impact on the lives of others remains a central theme. Whether rooted in altruism, a sense of empathy, or a wish to leave a lasting genetic legacy, the decision to become a sperm donor is a complex one that reflects the complexity of human nature itself. It is a choice that underscores the capacity for compassion, empathy, and a willingness to contribute to the well-being of others, even in the most intimate aspects of life.

So, this “donation” is considered not only normal but virtuous. What all this persiflage is disguising, however, is an act of self-abuse for $100, transformed into an eleemosynary deed for the “well-being of others.” And how might masturbating be “helping others exercise their reproductive autonomy”? That sounds like something Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy might have written in his Lawrence v. Texas decision in which he discovered that “an autonomy of self” made the act of sodomy a constitutional right. One almost has to admire the audacity of the rationalization in achieving such a total disconnect from reality.

Then off to the freezer with the “donation” and maybe, at some point, the defrosted sperm and a defrosted egg will meet in a wild tangle of passion that produces a child. My sarcasm is in reaction to the cold clinical aspect of this, so removed from the warmth of love. A science experiment vs. honoring God’s gift of allowing us to co-create with Him. When my wife told me she was pregnant, I quite involuntarily fell to my knees as if I had been struck, in awe and humble gratitude that God had allowed me to participate in bringing a new life, one destined for Him in eternity, into this world.

And how do interested customers, like the three lesbian couples featured in this story, get the sperm? Easy, peachy. “Once a donor is selected,” advises Parents magazine, “the sperm is ordered. And it’s just like Amazon. Yes, really.” Indeed, the Xytex corporation offers some real online deals where you can “buy one get one 50% off.” I thought we were dealing with “the most intimate aspects of life,” according to the San Diego Sperm Bank, but I guess it’s really just a click of the cursor away. So, the rationalization is just a pose, a front for the business of vice. Everyone either pays or gets paid.

The antiseptic approach to sperm donation and insemination totally depersonalizes one of the most personal acts in human behavior–the engendering of a child. No wonder this depersonalization leaves its participants wondering who or what they are and, therefore, who and what they are to each other. Apparently, children are encouraged to call the masturbator a “helper” or simply “the donor.”

And “two moms”? How far from reality is that? About as far as you can get since it is a biological impossibility. One of them is artificially inseminated by the sperm of the “donor” who, they insist, isn’t the dad. So, do we have another immaculate conception?

One lesbian “mother” thinks “donor” Dylan has transgressed by trying to get too close to his child, without realizing her own transgression, first of all, through her lesbian sexual relations. Plato was unambiguous in his condemnation of homosexual acts as unnatural. In the Laws, Plato’s last book, the Athenian speaker says, “I think that the pleasure is to be deemed natural which arises out of the intercourse between men and women; but that the intercourse of men with men, or of women with women, is contrary to nature, and that the bold attempt was originally due to unbridled lust.” By its nature, lust is unbridled, irrational, and therefore destructive of what it is to be human.

Then there is the breeding of a child to help her and her lesbian “partner” have a pretend “family” based upon the lie of “two mothers.” Lying always involves entangling others in the lie–in this case, first and foremost, an innocent child who is raised on the lie. The damage from this lie hurts the children ensnared in it profoundly. I offer only one of many testimonies–this one from an older Frenchman, Jean-Dominique Bunel: “I suffered deeply from the lack of a father, a daily presence, a character and a properly masculine example, some counterweight to the relationship of my mother to her lover. I was aware of it at a very early age. I lived that absence of a father, experienced it, as an amputation.” For the most powerful witness to the price of being raised by two lesbian “mothers,” look up Robert Oscar Lopez’s searing testimony.

This is what happens when you abandon the natural moral order. No one knows what they are to anyone else. Dylan himself is puzzled: “Am I a parent? Maybe sometimes from the child’s perspective? I don’t know. It’s not for me to say, but it certainly feels like parenting every once in a while.” Being a parent, I can assure Dylan that it is never only “every once in a while.” The Journal reports that “the girl’s mothers [note the Journal’s buy in to the fiction of plural “mothers”] acknowledged the complexities of the relationship from his role in their lives to what to call him. ‘I don’t want Harper to feel like she can call him anything,’ Bowes said. ‘He is not her dad. Period. If she were to say that in front of us, we would straight up say, ‘Dylan is not your dad. He will never be your dad. You don’t have a dad. You have a donor’,” which reduces the girl to a product.

If that is not enough to traumatize the child, what happens when she discovers she has 95 siblings? What’s she supposed to call them?

On the other hand, she is right to dispute the “donor’s” fatherhood. He never engaged in the marital act. Onanism does not a father make. Come to think of it, neither did the lesbian engage in the marital act. So much for her “motherhood.”

What are things once they lose their limits? Outside of Nature, no one knows–because they aren’t anything anymore. What is a “father” with 96 children? A caliph with a harem, who, in this case, never touches his concubines who are impregnated remotely?

No one in this wasted landscape seems to have any moral qualms or even a notion of what possible ethical objections might be raised to what they have done. The rule of the rationalization is so complete that they haven’t the slightest comprehension of the moral order they have transgressed. They are Friedrich Nietzsche’s “last man,” picking through the ruins of a collapsed moral order of which they know nothing. Thus, there seems to be no path to recovery.

However, reality still looms in the background and might reinsert itself at any time. Something at least stirred Dylan Stone-Miller’s conscience with the notion that he might actually have some obligations to the products of his six-year-long spawning run. The Journal reports that, when he saw photos of some of his biological children, he “he got tears in his eyes, he recalled, and unexpected feelings of kinship.” Thomas Aquinas wondered if the natural law could be “blotted out” of man’s soul, and concluded that it could come close but not finally succeed. That’s why Dylan’s feelings were not “unexpected” at all. That’s Mother Nature calling. This is what sent Dylan on his quixotic 9,000-mile road trip to find his kids.

Life cannot sustain distortions of this magnitude. The violation of the fundamental, generative relationship between husband and wife wreaks havoc on the whole social and political order. Plato knew this. So did Aristotle. Here, it’s front-page news. Read it and weep.

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About Robert R. Reilly 21 Articles
Robert R. Reilly was Senior Advisor for Information Strategy (2002-2006) for the US Secretary of Defense, after which he taught at National Defense University. He was the director of the Voice of America (2001-2002) and served in the White House as a Special Assistant to the President (1983-1985). A graduate of Georgetown University and the Claremont Graduate University, his books include The Closing of the Muslim Mind, Making Gay Okay, and Surprised by Beauty: A Listener's Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music. His most recent book, America on Trial: A Defense of the Founding, is published by Ignatius Press.


  1. Thank you for this scalding analysis. But soon enough, women will be able to have their skin cells transformed into sperm so they can inseminate themselves. It’s already been done with mice. Furthermore, the “products of conception” may one day be grown in a tank so the mother (literally not a “gestating parent” this time) won’t be inconvenienced. Surrogacy (without tanks) is steadily becoming more accepted. I hope we see a parallel essay on that practice.

  2. The only thing I’d change about this piece is to have it accompanied by a reproduction (forgive the pun) of Hieronymous Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.”

  3. How ironic that I am reading this article on the morning of September 8, the birthday of our Blessed Mother. How sad she and her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, must be that conceiving a child has become nothing more than a business deal (50% off for two?). Lord, please forgive everyone involved in this horrendous business for they know exactly what they are doing.

  4. We read such as this: “So, this ‘donation’ is considered not only normal but virtuous.”

    What, then, is the Church to do???
    Well, why not put “it” on the table, synodally, and then consider blessing–in some connected and nuanced way–homosexual liaisons? Without adulterating human language, we might even advance the theological fig leaf of “gradualism.”Problem solved!

    Now what else is on the synodal/focus group, flip-chart compendium, awaiting needed ambiguity, double-speak, and then the demonstrated harmonizing skills of Archbishop Fernandez?

  5. The author clearly misunderstands the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. I think he means Virgin Birth. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, from the first moment of her conception, was preserved from Original Sin by the anticipated merits of the Passion and death of her Divine Son.

  6. What a thoroughly disturbing article. People produced with antiseptic scientific sterility. No hint of nature or God in the process. No doubt these children are “wanted”, but that is not the problem here. Babies are not commodities to be mass produced and placed for a price.

    My husband and I could not conceive and after many years, twice made the decision to adopt. I can promise you that the day we got the phone calls saying we had a placement was far better than hitting a $10 million dollar lotto. I often find myself praying for the women who gave my (now grown) children life.They were very much wanted by my husband and me, and we loved them dearly and provided them every life opportunity.

    Too many pregnant women will not give the adoption option a chance. In so doing they rob their child of a chance at life and the impact they may have made to the world, and that is a great sadness. We need to hear more about these moral issues from the pulpit but I have no hope of seeing that. Recently someone told me about having been a CCD teacher in the recent past. When they got to the unit of study regarding abortion, her pastor advised her to tread lightly because “we have a lot of democrats in the parish and we dont want to alienate them”. (Or their wallets I suppose!) So much for having a spine.

    • That’s such a shame about the CCD teacher’s experience. I wouldn’t want to be in her pastor’s shoes on Judgment Day. What a perfect opportunity it would have been to instruct catechumens.

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