How Do Pro-Life Parents Deal With Pro-Abortion Vaccines?

Opinion   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Oct 5, 2011   |   10:21AM   |   Washington, DC

One of the most asked about and difficult ethical issues for Catholic parents to deal with is the issue with vaccination.  Many vaccines are created with cell lines that originated from an aborted fetus.

Cell lines MRC-5 and WI-38 are common cell lines used to produce vaccines for rubella, polio, hepatitis A and chicken pox.  MRC-5 was developed from lung cells from a 14-week-old male fetus that was electively aborted in 1966.  The WI-38 line was derived from a female fetus that was aborted in 1964.  There are alternatives possible to using these cell lines that originated from abortion, but unless manufacturers are pressured to change to alternative cell lines, it is unlikely that they will.

Many people often argue that using fetal cells from an aborted fetus is morally acceptable because the fetus was going to die anyway.  The Catholic Church rejects this argument.  If an organism must be intentionally destroyed to harvest cells, then the cells are morally tainted.  If these fetal stem cells had come from a natural miscarriage, then it would be morally permissible for parents to donate these cells to research.

The morality of fetal cell use is analogous to that of organ donation.  If the patient died of natural causes or a traumatic event, then is is morally permissible to use their organs for the benefit of others.  It is not morally permissible to intentionally and prematurely end a person’s life and then take their organs for donation.  Using fetal stem cells from aborted fetuses is analogous to using organs from death row inmates or victims of euthanasia.

So can Catholic parents, in good conscience, get their children vaccinated with vaccines made with cell lines like MRC-5 and WI-38?  Yes, but only if certain conditions are met.  Parents must ask their health care provider for an alternative to vaccines made with cell lines from aborted fetuses.  If there are no alternatives, then they must voice their objection.  Bishop Robert Vasa wrote the following about vaccines that used cell lines obtained through immoral means:

Thus my reading of [Dignitas Personae] inclines me to conclude that parents may use these vaccines derived from cell lines of illicit origin but they should inquire about the availability of a more ethical alternative and they must make their objections known to the physician, to the health care system and to the FDA. Clearly, the use of these vaccines, while morally permissible, is not entirely morally neutral….

In reality, if everyone did this then one of two things would happen. The pharmaceutical companies would stop making the vaccine or they would begin to look seriously for alternatives that are not tied to abortion. Without our protest, however, these companies have no incentive to change their ways. They will continue to do evil that good may come from it; we will continue to receive the good they produce, and we will thus give moral and financial support to their heinous practices.

Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute is a Seattle company has “developed a certification program to let consumers know how their vaccines, drugs and cosmetics are manufactured so that they can make informed choices about what to purchase.”  You can contact them if you have questions about whether a certain vaccine or other drug is morally tainted. Note: Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for five years and has been interviewed on EWTN radio on topics from stem cell research and cloning to voting pro-life. Taylor has a B.S. in Biochemistry from University of San Francisco with a national certification in clinical Molecular Biology MB (ASCP).