POSTSCRIPT / December 24, 2020 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Vaccines use cells of aborted fetuses?

THE VATICAN released on Monday a note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved by Pope Francis, giving the green light during the pandemic to the use of COVID-19 vaccines produced with cell lines derived from two fetuses aborted in the 1960s.

The Congregation’s note as reported by Vatican News said, “It is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”

Due to the pandemic, it added, “all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive.”

The vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in collaboration with Oxford University generated the most debate after religious and anti-abortion groups questioned the ethics of making vaccines with the use of fetal cells.

In November, it was widely claimed on social media that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine contains MRC-5 cells composed of fibroblasts originally developed from lung tissue of a 14-week-old aborted Caucasian male fetus in the 1960s.

This specific claim was fact-checked by the Associated PressFull Fact, Politifact, Reuters and Snopes, and found to be false.

The fact-checking also concluded that no COVID-19 vaccine contains cells from aborted fetuses, and that while a replica cell line from a fetus aborted in 1973 was used to develop the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, the vaccine itself does not contain fetal cells.

New messenger-RNA (mRNA) vaccines, such as those being developed by Pfizer and Moderna, are described as synthetic vaccines, sequenced on a computer in a lab, that do not use fetal cell lines in their production.

The note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved by Pope Francis on Dec. 17 and released on Monday, authoritatively intervenes to clarify doubts and moral questions on the subject.

The CDF note, signed by the Prefect, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, and the Secretary, Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, recalls three previous pronouncements on the topic: the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) in 2005, the CDF Instruction Dignitas Personae in 2008, and another PAV note in 2017.

The CDF says it does not “intend to judge the safety and efficacy” of COVID-19 vaccines, which it said is the responsibility of biomedical researchers and drug agencies, but focuses on “the moral aspects of receiving vaccines developed using cell lines from tissue obtained from two fetuses aborted in the 1960s”.

The Instruction Dignitas Personae, approved by Pope Benedict XVI, pointed out that “there exist differing degrees of responsibility”, because “in organizations where cell lines of illicit origin are being utilized, the responsibility of those who make the decision to use them is not the same as that of those who have no voice in such a decision.”

Therefore, argues the CDF in summing up the Instruction of 2008, “when ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available”, it is “morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”

The CDF says the reason for considering these vaccines morally licit is the “kind of cooperation” in the evil of abortion, which it says is “remote” on the part of those receiving the vaccine.

It says “the moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation is not obligatory” since there exists a grave danger, in the form of an “uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, says the CDF, fulfills this requirement.

The CDF says that in this specific situation, “All vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive.”

It clarifies that “the morally licit use of these types of vaccines, in the particular conditions that make it so, does not in itself constitute a legitimation, even indirect, of the practice of abortion, and necessarily assumes the opposition to this practice by those who make use of these vaccines.

“Nor should it imply a moral approval of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses.”

The CDF calls on pharmaceutical companies and government health agencies to “produce, approve, distribute and offer ethically acceptable vaccines that do not create problems of conscience.”

At the same time, the Congregation recalls that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”

The morality of vaccination, it says, depends both on the duty to protect one’s own health and the pursuit of the common good. “In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed.”

But those who for reasons of conscience reject vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses must, according to the CDF, “do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent.”

The Congregation says it is “a moral imperative” for the pharmaceutical industry, governments, and international organizations to ensure that effective and ethically acceptable vaccines are accessible “to the poorest countries in a manner that is not costly for them.”

Otherwise, it points out, “the lack of access to vaccines would become another sign of discrimination and injustice that condemns poor countries to continue living in health, economic and social poverty.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 24, 2020)

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