Catholic Researcher: It’s Morally Okay to Use a Coronavirus Vaccine Made With Aborted Baby Parts

Bioethics   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Apr 29, 2020   |   4:04PM   |   Washington, DC

A leading Catholic bioethics researcher clarified this week that Catholics should not necessarily reject a vaccine because it was developed using cells from aborted babies.

The Tablet reports Helen Watt, a senior research fellow at the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in England, explained the complex ethics of such vaccines, especially as researchers are scrambling to develop one for the coronavirus.

Watt said it is morally wrong to use fetal tissue from aborted babies in experiments, even if those experiments could potentially lead to life-saving treatments. She encouraged Catholics and other pro-lifers to seek out ethically-produced vaccines and urge researchers to use materials that are derived ethically.

However, in a paper released Monday, Watt said pro-lifers should use their consciences to decide whether to use a vaccine developed with cells from aborted babies – especially when no alternative is available, according to the report.

“Boycotting a COVID-19 vaccine in the absence of an alternative is a serious action that should be carefully considered because of its potentially grave risks both for the person and for others,” she said.

“Boycotts are often rightly regarded simply as a means of achieving change by highlighting abuses,” Watts continued. “… some will feel, whether rightly or wrongly, called to a boycott even if no alternative vaccine is available to them.”

She compared the situation to walking “in Rome on paving laid by slaves” or living “in countries that our ancestors unjustly invaded.”

Catholic and pro-life organizations, including Watt’s bioethics center, have been advocating against research using aborted baby body parts for years. During the coronavirus crisis, they have renewed calls to scientists to abide by basic ethical standards in their efforts to save lives.

According to the Catholic News Agency, a Canadian Catholic archbishop recently took his pro-life advocacy a step further by donating thousands of dollars to an ethical vaccine research project at the University of British Columbia.

Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver said he hopes the research and the archdiocese’s support will be “a visible sign to the world of the healing and reconciliation so needed right now.”

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Ryan Thomas, a special advisor to the archdiocese, told CNA that Archbishop Miller wanted to express, through his donation, the Catholic Church’s support for science and medicine that contribute to the common good.

“The Church— as Pope Francis has said from the beginning of his pontificate— is called to go out, we’re called to engage, not called to retreat,” Thomas told CNA.

“From a scientific standpoint, that means identifying the research that is worthy of our investment, that meets the high standards that we have to protect life,” he said.

Thomas said they confirmed with the university that the researchers are not using cells from aborted babies to develop the vaccine.

Earlier in the week, LifeNews reported how at least two companies are using cell lines created from the cells of aborted babies to develop a coronavirus vaccine. A third vaccine developed by the University of Oxford using cells from aborted babies is in the process of human trials and could be available by September, according to CNA.

Leading U.S. Catholic bishops responded to the news with a letter urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure vaccines are being produced ethically.

Pro-life leaders also have highlighted how ethical alternatives to tissue from aborted babies are available, including pluripotent stem cells and tissue from placentas, umbilical cords and amniotic fluid. In 2018, the Trump administration created a $20 million grant to invest in these ethical research alternatives.

Abortion activists have been trying to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis by pushing for abortion funding in government spending bills, the de-regulation of abortion drugs, and research using aborted baby body parts. In March, the Washington Post highlighted complaints from anonymous scientists claiming research on the coronavirus is being hindered by new restrictions from the Trump administration on the use of aborted baby body parts in taxpayer-funded research.

National Review reports pro-life lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate both sent letters to the Trump administration telling leaders to stand firm in their commitment to defund the unethical research.

“In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, complaints against your decision to halt funding of aborted fetal tissue research has reached a crescendo,” the House letter states. “These critical litanies, however, repeat false claims and narratives which for many years have touted the utility of aborted fetal tissue in research …”

Recently, the Charlotte Lozier Institute noted that at least 60 potential treatments for the virus are being investigated right now using materials that do not come from aborted babies.