Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Act now to ensure a morally acceptable CO19 vaccine

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 01, 2020

Sooner of later—and we all hope and pray that it’s sooner—a vaccine will be developed to prevent the spread of CO19. When that vaccine is approved for us, there will be a huge rush to mass-produce it, and heavy pressure for everyone to take it.

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So let’s spend a moment now, before the mad rush begins, to think about what sort of vaccine we want. Specifically, do we want a vaccine developed by moral means, or by immoral means. Today we have a choice; in the future we might not.

Right now, two pharmaceutical companies are reportedly leading the competition to develop a CO19 vaccine. One company—Moderna—is using fetal cells taken from aborted babies to develop its vaccine. The other company—Sanofi Pasteur—is using DNA taken from insects. Either company could produce millions of doses of the vaccine, if it finds the right formula.

Thus we could, sometime in the not-too-distant future—face a choice between two vaccines: one developed using tissue taken from aborted babies, the other using material taken from bugs. One morally objectionable vaccine, one morally acceptable. It should be an easy choice.

But if we don’t voice a preference, we may not have any choice.

Back in 2005, the Pontifical Academy for Life issued a statement on the moral duties of Catholics regarding vaccines that use aborted fetal cells. The Academy concluded that if no other vaccine is available, and the need is clear, then Catholics may reluctantly use the morally objectionable vaccines. However, the Pontifical Academy said, “there remains a moral duty to continue to fight and to employ every lawful means in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically.”

Unfortunately, the latter part of the Pontifical Academy’s statement was lost in translation. Catholic moralists—including some who should have known better— rushed to the conclusion that the Vatican statement was a green light for the use of morally tainted vaccines. It was not. The statement said, essentially, that Catholics could justifiably use a morally tainted vaccine under duress—but with the stipulation that they—we—must always work to encourage the development of other, morally acceptable options.

Because that message was not clearly conveyed, Catholics did not make their voices heard, and the marketplace did not feel the demand for vaccines developed without the use of fetal cells. In 2009 the Merck Corporation, which had been producing a morally acceptable vaccine for measles and mumps, discontinued production of that vaccine—leaving us with no alternative to the vaccine that used fetal cells.

We could be in the same position vis-à-vis a new CO19 vaccine. We could be faced with a choice between taking a morally objectionable vaccine or remaining exposed to a deadly disease. But there is an alternative. We can begin now—early in the process—to educate our friends and neighbors, to build up a marketplace demand for an acceptable vaccine.

There is no scientific reason why we can’t have a morally acceptable vaccine. The question is: Will we demand it?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: dmva9806 - Apr. 04, 2020 4:07 PM ET USA

    Now we have an issue to test Pres. Trump - will he issue an edit requiring any acceptable vaccine to not use fetal cells from aborted babies?

  • Posted by: Northern Digger - Apr. 04, 2020 7:46 AM ET USA

    Very helpful article, Phil. To effectively carry out your suggestions requires knowing what efforts are already in place or being launched. Would appreciate your addressing this.

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Apr. 02, 2020 2:20 AM ET USA

    There are so many vaccines being worked on, and they use different models for provoking immunity, that there will probably be several vaccines available for use in the end. As I doubt Moderna can be persuaded to change their methodology, perhaps the best thing is to pray that other companies finish their vaccines first and that they prove more effective than Moderna's.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Apr. 01, 2020 4:31 PM ET USA

    "Because that message was not clearly conveyed." Reminds one of Canons 1250-1253 in the CIC. How many know that Friday abstinence was never abrogated or even relaxed in the 1983 Code? The modification that was made concerned the substitution of some other form of penance if a person thought abstinence too challenging. Our pastor pointed out shortly after our FSSP community formed 25 years ago that the substitute forms of penance must incorporate real "meat"; i.e. they must entail real suffering.