Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Fetal tissues and vaccinations; are you part of the problem?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 30, 2015

If you’re appalled by the revelations about the sale of fetal tissues-- and how could you not be—pause for a moment and think on this passage from a New York Times op-ed defending the ghoulish traffic:

Fetal cells extracted from the lungs of two aborted fetuses from Europe in the 1960s are still being propagated in cell culture. They’re so successful that today we still use them to produce vaccines for hepatitis A, rubella, chickenpox and shingles.

Why are fetal cell lines used for those vaccines? Not because they’re necessary, but because they’re convenient. Or, to look at it another way, because there hasn’t been sufficient public outcry to prompt pharmaceutical companies to produce vaccines that don’t exploit the bodies of dismembered babies. (Quite the contrary; Merck chose to discontinue sales of a rubella vaccine made without fetal cell lines.)

Yes, I know that the Vatican has said that parents may be justified in choosing to use these vaccines, when no alternative is available, in light of the serious risks of disease. But the Vatican also said—much more clearly and forcefully, in the same document—that everyone has a moral obligation to demand ethical alternatives.

This is not an argument against vaccination. (We’ll save that topic for another day.) This is an argument against accepting the use of fetal cell lines without a protest. If you’re contemplating vaccination for chickenpox or shingles, And you’re not planning at least to lodge a protest against the restricted choice of available vaccines, then you are involved with the business exposed in those undercover videos.

Update: To be accurate, I should make it clear that the vaccines commonly given to American children use cell lines derived from the tissues of babies who were aborted many years ago. No new fetal tissues are required for those vaccines. Still there is a connection—remote, to be sure—between the vaccines of today and the abortions that took place a few decades ago. I can't live comfortably with that connection; I hope you can't, either. Moreover, if there is no complaint about these vaccines that don't require the use of new fetal tisses, pharmeceutical companies will be encouraged to think that the public will readily accept other medications that do require new human sacrifices. 

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 See full bio.

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  • Posted by: asheedy8209 - Jul. 31, 2015 8:26 PM ET USA

    Phil - I appreciate and agree with almost everything you're saying, but follow this very real scenario. You live in a small town with 2 or 3 pediatric providers, all of which have recently decided that all patients must agree to follow HHS recommended vaccination schedules or find another doctor. You have young children still in need of pediatric care. You have a large family, and are faithfully Catholic. While I agree that academically, the choice is clear, please don't pretend it's easy.

  • Posted by: howland5905 - Jul. 31, 2015 4:36 PM ET USA

    This is a difficult subject with important ethical implications, as you discuss, Phil. As a Catholic physician I agree that we should protest the use of aborted fetal cell lines in the production of vaccines. However, we still need to immunize our children. For an excellent discussion of this subject from the National Catholic Bioethics Center:

  • Posted by: brenda22890 - Jul. 30, 2015 4:38 PM ET USA

    I recently refused a shingles vaccine and told my doctor why I was making that choice. Of course, my doctor accepted my decision without comment. Even if I knew where to protest to the manufacturer, I can't imagine that my one voice matter. If we are going to make an issue of this, then we need to become organized and public about it.