Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Rethinking Vaccines 

Okay, I've given some more thought and study to the question of the ethical use of vaccines obtained from aborted fetal tissue, which I raised early this week. My initial discussion was more along the lines of exploration than of pronunciation; while trying to avoid a John Kerry on this one, I admit my thought has progressed a bit. My initial approach to the question, I think, unduly minimized and simplified the moral problematics involved in this issue. I think the question on which the debate turns, even if it is one I have yet to see explicitly brought up, is that of the desecration of the human corpse.

In my initial discussion, I wrote the following:

"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."

Well, looking back, that 'analogy' was dead in the water the moment I wrote it. And what was first only 'unsettling' for me, in that final sentence, in the end became a clear moral absurdity. The fact is, the corpse of an aborted fetus is nothing at all like the corpse of a man gunned down in the street. Unless, that is, the criminal who gunned him down was after his organs (like the guy in Blood Work). CCC 2296 teaches that "[o]rgan donation after death . . . is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent." The definition of 'proxy' remains unstated; in the case of a child it would undoubtedly be a parent. But not any parent, I think; only a parent who genuinely seeks the good of his child. A parent who seeks the death of his child thereby forfeits his right to act or speak on that child's behalf. (As a rough parallel, in legal theory we hold that an unjust dictate by a government is null and void, whereas otherwise a government would be authorized to act on behalf of its citizens, presuming it is seeking their good.)

A parent who has authorized the death of his child no longer has the right to act as its proxy. Therefore, any seizure of tissue or organs from this child constitute not only stolen property, but the desecration of a human corpse (c. CCC 2300). Stolen goods cannot be legitimately put to good use, even if these goods cannot be returned. Imagine if the Polish Mafia donated a hefty sum of cash to a parish church, which was admittedly obtained by illicit means, and there was no way to return it to its rightful owners; the church would be, I think, obliged to turn it down, due to the morally problematic means by which it was obtained. The situations, I think, are parallel.
Unfortunately, I can find no authoritative statement on this issue by the Magisterium. The only document which addresses the issue at all, to my knowledge, is the 1987 CDF Instruction Donum Vitae. Here the question is treated in general terms, obliging us to 'respect' the corpses of aborted fetuses, to avoid scandal, commercial trafficking, and any complicity in the crime of abortion. Surprisingly, the document seems to weigh against my own conclusion, at least implicity, inasmuch as it warns against undertaking mutilization or autopsies on the corpses of fetuses 'without the consent of the parents or of the mother,' which may be taken to presume that such consent would legitimize such activities (see I, 4). Either way, I'm still working towards a solution on this. It seems to be a scientific development whose ethical implications are still being worked out in theology and catechesis.

# posted by Jamie : 3:49 PM


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