There’s a news story out this week about a Coast Guard officer who was told that he must take a vaccine that was derived based on tissue from an unborn child that had been aborted.
The officer refused the vaccine based upon his religious beliefs that abortion is wrong.
After a lawsuit was filed by the Alliance Defense Fund, the Coast Guard decided to allow a religious exemption.
“Members of our military should never have to choose between honoring their country and honoring their faith,” argued ADF attorneys in the case of Coast Guard officer Joseph Healy.
I agree with my friend, Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, who said, “We applaud the military for recognizing that Healy is deserving of the same freedoms that he has spent his career defending.”
But, what about parents who face this same decision when immunizing their children.
Is it true that there are vaccines derived from aborted babies?
And, if so, should parents who believe abortion is wrong refuse these vaccines?
One of my foundational ethical principles is that human life is sacred from the moment of conception when a new, unique human being is formed. This is a position I will never compromise for the sake of “medical research” or for the good of “science.”
Having said that let me explain that a line of human cells (known as WI-38) used to grow viruses for research is believed to have begun from the tissue (cells) of a legally aborted and unborn child in Sweden.
These cells are used in the production of the rubella portion of the MMR-II vaccine.
Dr. Leonard Hayflick at the Wistar Institute (thus the WI in the name of the cell line) developed the WI-38 cell line in 1962.
A second cell line, MRC-5, also reported developed from the tissue (cells) of a legally aborted child, has been used to develop the vaccines called Vaqta and Havrix (administered to prevent hepatitis A).
In addition, the Varivax vaccine for the chicken pox virus is reported to have been produced from both the MRC-5 and WI-38 lines.
As for the origins of MRC-5, the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family has found that this particular cell line was developed from the cells of a preborn infant who was aborted by the mother for “psychiatric reasons,” although specific details haven’t been revealed by the company.
As tragic and potentially unjustifiable as these two abortions may have been, they were apparently not performed with the intent of carrying out scientific or medical research.
Although I abhor the practice of abortion, using these cell lines to continue to develop vaccines does not necessarily constitute formal cooperation in the act of abortion (what bioethicists call the formal cooperation with evil – which is always wrong).
Killing an unborn child is an ethically distinct act from that of producing a vaccine after the abortion has already been performed.
Furthermore, no ongoing abortions are required to continue production of these vaccines. Cell lines derived from fetal tissue can be duplicated and grown in culture for decades, and thus additional abortions aren’t necessary to replenish the vaccine supply.
For these reasons, I join the vast majority of faith-based medical ethicists who don’t believe that producing or administering a vaccine made in the past from the cells of an aborted fetus is an evil act.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt, moral people should speak out against unethical and immoral practices. I would never justify conducting an immoral practice so that something positive can result.
However, in this case I can recommend these vaccines to concerned parents who have an obligation to care for their children’s health.
I think of this situation as being comparable to letting your child receive an organ from a murder victim. The crime that led to the organ’s availability was awful, deplorable, and punishable. But the organ itself is useable, and its use does not, in my opinion, take on any immorality of the act that led to its availability.
Nevertheless, I completely support individual conscience. Due to the complex and highly controversial nature of this issue, it’s understandable that some parents will still feel uncomfortable utilizing vaccines that are the byproduct of abortion – and, it was understandable that this Coast Guard officer would refuse the vaccine.
You can read more about this topic in my book God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Child.
Merck and Company, “Manufacturing Insert for MMR-II, Varivax, Vaqta, and Havrix”; can be viewed on the Web here.
“Gamma Globulin Prophylaxis; Inactivated Rubella Virus; Production and Biologics Control of Live Attenuated Rubella Virus Vaccines,” American Journal of Diseases of Childhood 118 (1969): 2:372–81.
S. A. Plotkin, J. D. Farquhar, M. Katz, and F. Buser, “Attenuation of RA 27–3 Rubella Virus in WI–38 Human Diploid Cells,” American Journal of Diseases of Childhood118 (1969): 2:178–85.
S. A. Plotkin, D. Cornfeld, and T. H. Ingalls, “Studies of Immunization with Living Rubella Virus. Trials in Children with a Strain Cultured from an Aborted Fetus,” American Journal of Diseases of Childhood110 (1965): 4:381–89.