Five Covid-19 vaccines in development, including two selected for government-funded Operation Warp Speeduse cell lines derived from aborted fetuses to produce the vaccines themselves.
Recent news reports on the origin of these Covid-19 vaccines, as well as discussions at annual meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the ethical ramifications of vaccines whose development involved the use of aborted fetuses, have brought this issue back into the spotlight just over a month after it became a major issue – when President Donald J. Trump contracted Covid-19 and received two drugs whose effectiveness was tested with cells from an aborted fetus in 1972. A bishop has argued that one of the most publicized potential vaccines, from Moderna, is derived from cells aborted fetal tissue, a claim that turned out to be false.
Mr Trump touted the drugs he received – two monoclonal antibodies made by Regeneron and the antiviral drug Remdesivir – as remarkably effective remedies. “I call it a cure,” Mr. Trump said in a video posted on Twitter. (It’s not.) His enthusiasm for these remedies was so great that he suggested he would use his executive powers to order hundreds of thousands of doses for widespread use – and perhaps for free. Under the aegis of the White HouseOperation Warp Speed“, the pharmaceutical companies making the two treatments are already receiving federal funding in the frantic quest for a Covid-19 vaccine.
In 2019, the Ministry of Health and Social Services eliminated federal funding for scientific research that uses fetal tissue from abortions, stating that “[p]Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of President Trump’s administration’s top priorities,” but did not include projects using fetal tissue from existing cell lines. In the case of Covid-19 treatments, in addition to the 1972 cell line (known as “HEK-293T”), a number of other pharmaceutical companies are using cells from a second fetus that was aborted in 1985 ( known as “Per.C6”).
Can a person who truly believes in the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death, use a treatment derived from cells that originated in an aborted fetus?
“miracles from godhe doesn’t technically violate the terms of his 2019 executive order.
However, a more delicate question arises in the realm of moral theology: can a person who truly believes in the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death, use a treatment derived from cells whose origin was an aborted fetus?
the Catechism of the Catholic Church clarifies the position of the Church on abortion: “Direct abortion, that is to say abortion willed either as an end or as a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” and “[s]Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for and cured, as far as possible, like any other human being. Indeed, according to the teaching of the Church, anyone directly involved in procuring an abortion is automatically excommunicated. But back to our question: can a Catholic resort to medical treatment derived from an induced abortion?
The answer is familiar: it’s complicated.
This involves using terms you don’t usually hear around the water cooler (and, God knows, you don’t hear in a presidential debate): Formal cooperation with evil; material cooperation, both far and near; active and passive material cooperation with evil. But the short answer is the most helpful: if you can avoid using medical treatments derived from fetal cells, you should. If there is no other practical option without serious health risks, the Catholic Church considers it morally acceptable for you to receive medical treatment derived from fetal cells.
If there is no other practical option without serious health risks, the Catholic Church considers it morally acceptable for you to benefit from medical treatment derived from fetal cells.
“The notion of ‘cooperation with evil’ addresses situations in which an agent must decide whether to perform an act that cooperates with, by contributing to, the morally wrong action of another agent”, Tobias Winright, professor fellow in theological and health care ethics at Saint Louis University, recounted America by email. “In the present case under consideration, however, the problem facing the agents – the Catholics who are considering using the drug that President Trump used – is whether to use the fruits of the action morally reprehensible of another agent (e.g. elective abortion).”
Winright noted other ethical considerations. “Do the researchers (and the benefactors of their research, the patients) share the intent of those originally involved in the allegedly elective abortion nearly five decades ago? A clue here could be provided by asking them if they would agree with (and therefore intend) for more such abortions to take place to facilitate other similar research,” he commented. “Without such intent, however, this appropriation of evil seems morally acceptable.”
In April, a number of U.S. bishops (including Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities) asked the United States Food and Drug Administration not to use cell lines from aborted fetuses in the search for a vaccine against Covid-19. The USCCB also urged drugmakers to make alternative vaccines available so that “Catholics and others will not face this moral dilemmabut concedes that in cases where no alternative is currently available, “Catholics may licitly accept vaccination for themselves and their children using tissue-based vaccine from an abortion.”
In other words, the goods of vaccination (the protection of children and the health of the whole population) enter into the moral calculation of the use of such a vaccine. The church’s concern is not only that vaccines are “tainted” by the involvement of cells from abortions (the use of which is material cooperation with evil), but that continuing to use these cells could potentially encourage efforts to derive new cell lines from abortions, which might involve formal cooperation with evil (because it might condone an intention to abort).
In April, a number of US bishops asked the US Food and Drug Administration not to use cell lines from aborted fetuses in the search for a vaccine against Covid-19.
“Other issues also need to be considered,” Winright added. “Virtue ethicists, for example, observe that our actions affect our character. Does accepting this use of fetal tissue from elective abortion make the researcher and recipient less likely to view elective abortion as morally problematic and perhaps even more positively than they otherwise would? Would this work as a precedent encouraging more funding and research involving elective abortions? »
The question of supporting – either rhetorically or financially – the development of a vaccine through the use of such cell lines is more difficult, since the material cooperation with the evil of abortion in this effort is closer (more “near”) than a doctor or patient using a vaccine to preserve their health. When addressing the issue of vaccine use, rather than vaccine research and development, the Church has treated it as a form of remote material cooperation with evil. of abortion.
Christopher Kaczor, professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University and author of Conflicts in bioethicsRecount America via email that “Catholic teaching is clear that formal cooperation with evil, including the evil of abortion, is always wrong. The use of tainted vaccines or treatments is material cooperation with evil, which can be justified by a serious reason. Kaczor underlined that the The Vatican published a document in 2005 noting that “the duty to avoid passive material cooperation [i.e., material cooperation without specific opposition to the prior evil act] is not mandatory” if there are proportional reasons for using a vaccine – the classic example being vaccination against rubella (German measles), where the only option is a vaccine derived from fetal cells. “This same reasoning would apply to the use of vaccines and treatments for Covid-19,” Kaczor wrote.
“The case for using vaccines produced from cells of aborted fetuses is as follows: Getting vaccinated against a deadly disease is usually part of good health management,” said Lisa Fullam, professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Santa Clara. University of Berkeley, California, said America by email. “The moral distancing of the issue of receiving a vaccine grown in cells from an abortion decades ago from the moral urgency of stopping the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic with a safe and effective makes it at least permitted, and perhaps even mandatory,” Fullam commented. “Even more will die if we refuse a vaccine for reasons other than safety or effectiveness. While some might refuse a vaccine or other treatment for ‘pro-life’ reasons, in fact many more will die if we refuse a vaccine that will be produced despite those who oppose its provenance – and that is not being pro-life.”
Truth be told, if you press hard enough on a moral theologian, he or she will admit that it is essentially impossible to exist in society without some degree of remote material cooperation with evil. Driving your car, filling your garbage can, buying vegetables from the store, these are all textbook cases of material cooperation at a distance with the evils of environmental destruction, worker exploitation and many other contrary practices. to ethics. Life is messy. But as Pope Francis might say, the secret is not to shy away from the thorny moral questions of life, but to approach them with a spirit of discernment.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated.
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