Catholic bishops are continuing to urge government leaders and scientists to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus that does not use cells from aborted babies.
Their concerns are gaining renewed attention because an Oxford University vaccine that may be the first available to the public is being developed using cells from an aborted baby girl.
In a letter to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said the vaccine will pose an “ethical quandary” for many Christians, AFP reports. Anglican Archbishop Dr. Glenn Davies and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Makarios Griniezakis joined him in signing the letter.
The religious leaders said many Christians are concerned about “benefit[ing] in any way from the death of the little girl whose cells were taken and cultivated, not to be trivalising that death, and not to be encouraging the foetal tissue industry.”
They expressed their disappointment that the Australian government made a deal with the Oxford vaccine producers, and urged government leaders not to make the unethically-produced vaccine mandatory, Sight Magazine reports.
The religious leaders emphasized their support for vaccines that are developed ethically and asked Morrison to support that option for Christians.
“If the Government pursues an ethically uncontroversial vaccine [moral concerns] won’t be a problem. If it assures people that no one will be pressured to use such a vaccine or disadvantaged for failing to do so, it won’t be a problem,” [Fisher] said. “The key, then, is seeking solutions that protect the community’s physical health while also respecting its moral health and offering people choices.”
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Archbishop Fisher wrote that, if there is no alternative available, he does not think it would be unethical to use the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“To do so would not be to co-operate in any abortion occurring in the past or the future,” he said. “But I am deeply troubled by it.”
Catholic bishops in the United States and United Kingdom have expressed similar concerns.
Despite a strong outcry from pro-life and Catholic leaders and despite ethical alternatives being available, a number of research teams are using the cells from aborted babies in their work. These include Janssen Research & Development USA, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, and the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, which could be the first to make a coronavirus vaccine available in the United States.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca team appears to be in first place in the vaccine race. Large-scale clinical trials are being conducted in UK hospitals. A paper published in The Lancet medical journal revealed the vaccine appears safe and induces a strong immune response following the first phase of human trials.
The team at Oxford University is developing the vaccine using the HEK 293 cell-line. This cell-line was originally created from tissue taken from the kidney of an unborn baby girl aborted around 1972.
Dr. Anthony McCarty, a pro-life physician in the UK, spoke out about the moral concerns.
“For those of us who see the original abortion as the unjustified taking of the life of the unborn child, such use of the products of abortion, even a cell line derived from the original tissue, risks sending out a harmful social message concerning the value of early human life,” he said.
McCarthy added: “Even those not opposed to all abortion may well have serious and substantial moral concerns over practices which seem to treat opportunistically the remains of an aborted unborn child. Society needs to respect the consciences of its members who uphold the inviolability of human life from conception and who do not wish to be involved in anything they may see as complicit with the unjust taking of such life.”
Respected researchers Drs. James L. Sherley, MD, PhD and David A. Prentice, PhD recently reviewed the vaccines in development for the coronavirus and published a list identifying which are being made ethically and unethically. They found at least 10 companies that are not using cell lines from aborted babies in their vaccines.
Pro-life leaders also have highlighted how ethical alternatives to cell lines 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.
Earlier this spring, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure vaccines are being produced ethically.
“… we think it’s very important at this moment to let the voice not only of the Church but other concerned citizens to voice that we want to—we all want a vaccine, we realize that’s important for our public health, but we also want a vaccine that has no ethical problems in the way it’s developed,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, earlier this spring.