Catholic World News News Feature

Vatican condemns vaccines using fetal tissues July 22, 2005

The Vatican has condemned the use of vaccines derived from fetal tissue, and exhorted Catholics to lobby for the development of alternative vaccines.

The new instructions from the Vatican provide strong support for parents and doctors who resist the use of vaccines that are based on fetal remains. Such vaccines are commonly used today in the US to inoculate patients-- usually children-- against diseases such as measles, mumps, chicken pox, rubella, smallpox, rabies, polio, and hepatitis A. In some cases the vaccines developed from fetal tissues are the only products available to patients seeking protection from the disease.

In a careful analysis of the moral issues involved in the use of vaccines developed from fetal tissues, the Pontifical Academy for Life concludes that pharmaceutical companies have a grave moral obligation to provide vaccines that do not use fetal remains.

Although parents and doctors may be morally justified in using such vaccines, when no alternative is available, the Vatican document says that they "have a duty to take recourse to alternatives, putting pressure on political authorities and health systems" to produce morally acceptable alternative treatments. The document continues:

They should use conscientious objection and oppose by all means-– in writing, through various associations, mass media, etc,-- the vaccines which do not yet have morally acceptable alternatives, creating pressure so that alternative vaccines are prepared, which are not connected with the abortion of a human fetus.

The Vatican document was produced in response to a query from an American group, Children of God for Life, which had asked for guidance from the Holy See on the use of vaccines derived from aborted babies. The reply came from Bishop Elio Sgreccia, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. The bishop noted that this reply had been approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Bishop Sgreccia's response included an 8-page essay on the subject, which will soon be published in an Italian bioethics journal. The full text of that article is now available on the Children of God for Life web site.

Vaccines developed from the tissues of aborted babies involve the manufacturers in an unacceptable moral compromise, the Pontifical Academy for Life observes. The document goes on to explain classic Catholic teachings regarding cooperation in evil actions, and outlining the degrees of cooperation involved in the production and use of such vaccines. This cooperation, the Vatican instruction says, is "more intense on the part of the authorities and national health systems that accept the use of the vaccines."

In the absence of effective alternatives, individuals may use the morally tainted vaccines, the Pontifical Academy argues, since their cooperation with the original immoral acts involved would be remote and passive. Nevertheless, even ordinary citizens have an obligation to fight for change, the Vatican insists: "It is up to the faithful and citizens of upright conscience (fathers of families, doctors, etc.) to oppose, even by making an objection of conscience, the ever more widespread attacks against life and the 'culture of death' which underlies them."

The Pontifical Academy observes that energetic demands from the public could encourage manufacturers to develop alternative products, and prompt public authorities to curb the sale of vaccines that use morally unacceptable means of production. "In any case, 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."

When no acceptable vaccines are available, the document points out, parents put into "a context of moral coercion," when they are forced to accept a morally tainted treatment or endanger the health of their children. "This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible," the Vatican states.

The Pontifical Academy urges parents and doctors to consider conscientious objection to the use of any vaccines that involve morally unacceptable means of production. The document states that "it is right to abstain from using these vaccines if it can be done without causing children, and indirectly the population as a whole, to undergo significant risks to their health."

Even when patients make the decision to use the vaccines, the Vatican stressed that their decision should not be taken as approval for the process by which the vaccines were developed. The document argues:

… lawfulness of the use of these vaccines should not be misinterpreted as a declaration of the lawfulness of their production, marketing and use, but is to be understood as being a passive material cooperation and, in its mildest and remotest sense, also active, morally justified as an extrema ratio due to the necessity to provide for the good of one's children and of the people who come in contact with the children (pregnant women)

Debra Vinnedge, the executive director of Children of God for Life, noted that the Vatican instructions support efforts to require pharmaceutical companies to disclose when their products use fetal tissues. The Fair Labeling and Informed Consent Act, a bill recently introduced in the US Congress, would have that effect.

Dr. Steven White, the president of the Catholic Medical Association, made the same observation. "We must demand that the pharmaceutical industry provide accurate information on the origin of all vaccines so that we are able to make informed decisions in accord with our moral conscience," he said; "and we must mobilize to support development of ethical alternatives."
Vaccines developed from fetal tissues

In its analysis, the Pontifical Academy for Life listed the vaccines developed from fetal tissues:

A) Live vaccines against rubella:

  • the monovalent vaccines against rubella Meruvax®!! (Merck) (U.S.), Rudivax® (Sanofi Pasteur, Fr.), and Ervevax® (RA 27/3) (GlaxoSmithKline, Belgium);
  • the combined vaccine MR against rubella and measles, commercialized with the name of M-R-VAX® (Merck, US) and Rudi-Rouvax® (AVP, France);
  • the combined vaccine against rubella and mumps marketed under the name of Biavax®!! (Merck, U.S.);
  • the combined vaccine MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) against rubella, mumps and measles, marketed under the name of M-M-R® II (Merck, US), R.O.R.®, Trimovax® (Sanofi Pasteur, Fr.), and Priorix® (GlaxoSmithKline UK).

B) Other vaccines, also prepared using human cell lines from aborted fetuses:
  • two vaccines against hepatitis A, one produced by Merck (VAQTA), the other one produced by GlaxoSmithKline (HAVRIX), both of them being prepared using MRC-5;
  • one vaccine against chicken pox, Varivax®, produced by Merck using WI-38 and MRC-5;
  • one vaccine against poliomyelitis, the inactivated polio virus vaccine Poliovax® (Aventis-Pasteur, Fr.) using MRC-5;
  • one vaccine against rabies, Imovax®, produced by Aventis Pasteur, harvested from infected human diploid cells, MRC-5 strain;
  • one vaccine against smallpox, AC AM 1000, prepared by Acambis using MRC-5, still on trial.