Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Friday, September 03, 2004

On the Ethical Use of Vaccines 

On our last trip to the pediatrician, the doctor informed us that our son was due to get a Chicken Pox vaccine in the not-too-distant future. He sat my wife down, however, and gave her a brief lesson on the grave ethical issues involved in this vaccine, given that it is derived from the tissue of aborted fetuses. In the end, he advised her that obtaining the vaccine was, in his opinion, morally justified, but that she should consider the matter very seriously before progressing. He gave her this brochure before leaving, and encouraged her to study the background. Apparently this doctor has been very involved in the discussions of the morality of this vaccine, along with heavy lobbying of the medical establishment to produce morally viable alternatives. We are blessed to have a doctor was so highly attuned to the moral implications of medicine (in fact, we patronize him for this reason), which is unfortunately rare.

I did some studying of my own. Many vaccines are derived from the tissue of aborted fetuses. For most, however, there are alternatives which are derived from animal cells. For three there are no such alternatives: Chicken Pox, Hepatitis A, and Rubella. The story is this: Apparently back in the 60s the medical industry managed to get a hold of two aborted fetuses - terminated by their parents, if I remember correctly, for health defects and/or psychological reasons. From this fetal tissue these vaccines were successfully developed, and the resulting cell lines have been used to immunize children from these diseases ever since. Many (including my doctor, apparently) argue that the use of such vaccinations involves some complicity in the crime of abortion, along with the moral violation of the dignity of the aborted fetuses. He concludes, however, that at least for these three vaccines, since no other alternatives are available, the moral urgency of protecting children from the diseases outweighs, proportionately, the moral problems involved; but he adds that we also have an obligation to lobby for the production of ethical alternatives.

Now I was a bit perplexed. That abortion of these two infants was a crime is beyond doubt, and a horrific one at that. But I don't think it necessarily follows that the vaccines developed from their bodies are thereby rendered illicit, or even morally problematic. Note that the abortions in this case are not 'ongoing' (as I first thought) - they got all the cells they need from these two fetuses in the 60s, and no new fetuses are necessary for these vaccines (whether or not they are utilized for the development of other vaccines I do not know, but certainly not for these). The choice to kill the unborn infants was their parents'; the medical community only secured the bodies for their own uses, apparently with the permission of the parents. Now, to me, the act of utilizing the vaccines obtained from these fetuses seems quite removed, morally speaking, from the crime by which they were killed. Assuming that one does not share in the intention that these two fetuses be executed (hardly imaginable), it also does not seem evident that the use of this vaccine in any way encourages further abortions. As I said, they got the cells they need. Besides, if the medical community needs more aborted fetuses, I'm sure there is no shortage of them at the abortion mills. I can't imagine the demand for aborted fetuses outstripping the supply (perhaps I'm naive), to a sufficient degree that the medical industry might find it necessary to lobby the abortion industry to abort more babies, or even further, lobbying women to have more abortions. It's also hard to imagine women aborting their children in order to facilitate the development of more vaccines; besides, as I said, there is a surplus of slain infant corpses out there which would make it utterly supefluous for the medical community to push for more, at least for this reason. Therefore, I see no direct link whatsoever between the person using the vaccine and the two acts of abortion by which the vaccines were obtained.

To draw a very rough analogy, I think we can compare this scenario to one of organ donation. If an adult, a voluntary organ donor, gets gunned down in a robbery, his organs can be utilized to save the lives of others without involving any sort of complicity in the crime by which he was killed. Children, especially unborn children, cannot be 'volunteer organ donors' in this way, but one might venture to say that their parents might be able to do so by proxy. So long as the parents of a slain child were amenable, I don't see why the unfortunate child's body might not be put to good use. Of course, in this case, the parents were responsible for the child's killing, and this may introduce some complexities to the problem. It does seem unsettling that a child's murderer should have any governance over his body, even if that person be his parent. This would be a longer discussion.

But, to return to the primary issue, if there is any moral connection between the use of the vaccine and the aborting of the fetuses from whence they were derived, I would think it so distant as to make any moral 'complicity' almost a non-issue. Unless, that is, it could be proven that the use of the vaccine in some way increases the number of abortions currently performed(which I think highly improbable).

If I were Shea I would say 'Class, discuss.' But I'm not. So I can't.

# posted by Jamie : 1:18 PM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

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