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Quick hits on Covid: ethical vaccines, unintended experiments

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 01, 2020 | In Quick Hits

Looking for clarity about the ethical status of Covid vaccines? Don’t miss the National Catholic Register interview with John Haas, the former president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center. Some of these vaccines were developed with the use of fetal tissue. Because the tissue lines were taken from babies aborted long ago, and because the vaccine is judged a critical need, many moralists have claimed that there is no ethical problem with the use of the vaccines.

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Not so, cautions Dr. Haas. “The Church has repeatedly spoken out against the use of such tissues and cells.” Later he adds: “The Vatican has repeatedly stated that Catholics have an obligation to protest the use of these vaccines if, for a grave reason, they receive it.”

Notice that phrase: “for a grave reason.” If the need is urgent (which is arguable in this case) and no alternatives are available, then Catholics might consider themselves justified in taking the vaccine despite its ethical taint. In other words there is a moral argument against taking the vaccine, but there may be a convincing rebuttal that overrules that argument. Still two key points remain to be considered:

  1. If there is an ethical alternative—a vaccine that was developed without the use of fetal tissue—then the rebuttal fails. Catholics would then be under a moral obligation to take the ethically-derived vaccine, if they take any vaccine at all.
  2. Whether or not an ethical vaccine becomes available will depend in part on how pharmaceutical companies assess that market. Will they recognize a strong demand for an ethical vaccine? Or will they expect Catholics (and others who share our moral principles) to accept the tainted vaccine without a fuss? Will we be loud enough and insistent enough in our demands?

If only tainted vaccines are available, John Haas concludes, Catholics “may make use of the vaccine without incurring moral guilt while making their opposition to its manufacture known.” [emphasis added] To take the vaccine without registering any objection is to fail a moral test. Thus Catholics who anticipate taking a Covid vaccine should:

  • educate themselves about which vaccines have been developed using fetal tissue;
  • discourage the acceptance of those tainted vaccines, and encourage the development of alternatives;
  • use the alternative vaccine(s) if available; and
  • if no ethical alternative is available, tell the doctor, the vaccine manufacturer, and the health-care system that this situation is unacceptable and must be changed.

Or just don’t take the vaccine—which is my plan in any case.


If you have been wearing a mask for the past several months, your immune system has not been getting its usual daily workout. That’s probably OK for adults, who over the years have developed immunities to all sorts of minor airborne maladies. But young children are in a different situation; their immune systems are still developing. For them, wearing masks for the better part of a year might mean missing opportunities to develop immunity to some pesky diseases.

Writing in the New York Times, Drs. Donna Farber and Thomas Connors weigh the implications of this situation:

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is unwittingly conducting what amounts to the largest immunological experiment in history on our own children.

We may also be conducting an unwitting experiment on the psychological development of our children. Living in a world of masked faces, are they learning to pick up the emotional signals that ordinarily come from facial expressions: the smiles, frowns, grimaces, and gapes that are shown mostly in the mouth? We adults learned how to recognize those cues long ago. Will our children lag?

Using children as research subjects, without permission, is generally regarded as unethical. In this case we have an excuse, because as Drs. Farber and Connors note, we did not realize what we were doing. But now that we realize...

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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  • Posted by: feedback - Dec. 04, 2020 11:51 AM ET USA

    Excellent common sense points about wearing masks, especially about the psychological side effects. Why haven't the so-called 'top experts' like Fauci, etc, ever think about it? Masks should be worn by those who do not feel 100% well and by hypochondriacs. Those who are psychologically and physically healthy should not be forced to wear them.

  • Posted by: philtech2465 - Dec. 03, 2020 3:23 PM ET USA

    There is one moral issue not treated here: the obligation for the common good of all, to seek vaccination without a good reason not to do so. That is, until large numbers of people are vaccinated (or otherwise immune) many in society will be in danger, or widespread social isolation to avoid the virus will continue. BTW< the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have only a "distant" connection to abortion-derived cell lines, according to NCR.

  • Posted by: christosvoskresye5324 - Dec. 01, 2020 5:26 PM ET USA

    I suspect the psychological experiment is a much bigger problem than the immunological experiment. Honestly, although wearing masks properly and consistently probably does provide a certain amount of protection, I think most people -- and certainly most children -- are only wearing them inconsistently, and then not necessarily properly, leaving plenty of opportunity for exposure to pathogens. (Many people wear the masks as good luck charms rather than as medical equipment.)