The Morality of Vaccines

By: Michael G Sherman, MD, PhD

With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, an expedited process was set up to develop an effective vaccine to protect the public. Operation: Warp Speed was implemented with the goal of rolling out vaccines within months instead of the typical timeframe of years. Multiple pharmaceutical companies stepped up to this heroic task. In this process, as with many large undertakings, moral issues have arisen. Many companies, but not all, are choosing to use cells derived from elective abortions that were performed as long ago as 1961.

Cells derived from elective abortions have been used since the 1960s to manufacture vaccines, including current vaccines against rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A and the older shingles shot (the new Shingrix does not use the fetal cell lines). They have also been used to make approved drugs against diseases including hemophilia, rheumatoid arthritis, and cystic fibrosis. The cell lines were from tissues taken from an aborted baby and made technically “immortal” because technicians can sustain them in a laboratory indefinitely under the proper conditions. The cells have certain properties that permit reliably fast and reproducible manufacturing of the medicine or vaccine. This means that the researchers who developed these relatively new vaccines bear no direct responsibility whatsoever for the original abortions carried out half a world away and half a century ago. This is a contrast to some current-day researchers who experiment on the remains of preborn children. They cooperate so closely with abortion mills in order to receive the tissue they need that they are frequently in the abortuary at the time the abortions are being performed so they can package and preserve the organs immediately.

In June 2005, the Pontifical Academy of Life published a document entitled Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Fetuses, which answers most questions that parents of good conscience might have about the morality of using vaccines that are derived from the cell lines of aborted preborn children. The document explains that the Catholic Church recognizes and supports the great value of eradicating diseases that have plagued mankind for millennia, calling this a “milestone” of modern medical technology, but the process needs to adhere to moral standards. Unfortunately, there are certain procedures that attempt to derive good from evil which are ethically murky and create doubt, such as producing lifesaving vaccines from a procedure (abortion) that ends life.

There are generally three degrees of cooperation regarding the manufacture, sale and use of vaccines originating with aborted babies. 1.) Those who procure tissues from aborted babies to produce a vaccine from it are guilty of formally cooperating in abortion by approving of and taking advantage of the very act of abortion itself. 2.) Somewhat removed from this direct cooperation in abortion are those who market, advertise, and distribute the resulting vaccines. 3.) The doctors and patients who use these vaccines, even though they know about their origin, are permitted to use the vaccines when no alternative is available, in order to avoid “significant risks to their health” and “indirectly the [health of the] population as a whole”. However, this causes the “moral coercion of the conscience of parents, who are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible [Moral Reflections, Summary]. The Document also points out that we have a moral duty to do more than just passively resist evil; we must actively fight it. We are obliged to oppose, by all means, the vaccines which do not yet have morally acceptable alternatives, creating pressure so that alternative vaccines are prepared.

Dr. Edward J. Furton, a leading Catholic bioethicist, states that Catholics, by using these vaccines, are not approving of the original abortions in any way. He feels it would be a “high standard indeed if we were to require all benefits that we receive in the present to be completely free of every immorality of the past”. These vaccines certainly will not encourage any more abortions since the cell lines from the original abortions are continuing to grow and duplicate and that there is little incentive to begin new human cell lines. He states that we may refuse these vaccinations ourselves, but we are obliged to protect the health and lives of our children which compels us to get them vaccinated from potentially life-threatening diseases if no other alternative is available. If the only vaccines available are those derived from aborted preborn children who died many years ago, we may use them because there is no material cooperation in the abortions. If there is any cooperation in the evil of abortion, it rests with the pharmaceutical corporations, not with the people being vaccinated.

Currently in the US there are 3 Corona virus approved vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were tested using cell lines from aborted fetuses. However, they are manufactured using mRNA technology which does not involve the use of these cell lines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in contrast, was not only developed and tested but is manufactured using abortion-derived cell lines. As such, the USCCB is recommending, given a choice, that the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines be used instead of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The Vatican is urging people of goodwill to advocate for the development of vaccines with no connection to abortion. Please see the Catholic Medical Association website and USCCB website for sample letters. The USCCB website also has addresses for the various pharmaceutical companies.


Science, AAAS:                        


Human Life International:   





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