Discovering that several common vaccines are derived from baby body parts may not be quite as bad as eating Soylent Green, but for many pro-lifers it's a close second. While most parents are shocked to learn that their children have been injected with vaccines cultured on and containing residual components of aborted fetal tissue, anger turns to anxiety once physicians and school officials point out that the vaccines are necessary for children to attend school. Religious and philosophical exemptions are, however, available for those who cannot reconcile the use of these vaccines with either their Christian faith or firmly held moral belief in the sanctity of life.
In the United States, 10 different vaccines for chicken pox, hepatitis A, polio, rabies, and rubella are cultured on aborted tissue from two fetal cell lines known as WI-38 and MRC-5. These vaccines are Varivax (chicken pox), Havrix (hep-A), Vaqta (hep-A), Twinrix (hep-A/hep-B), Poliovax (polio), Imovax (rabies), Meruvax II (rubella), MR-VAX (measles/rubella), Biavax II (mumps/rubella), and MMR II (measles/mumps/rubella). Alternative, pro-life vaccines are available in this country for all but the chicken pox, hepatitis A, and rubella inoculations.
The WI-38 "human-diploid" cell culture was developed in July 1962 from a "therapeutically aborted" three-month-old girl. "WI" is an acronym used by the Wistar Institute, an aggressive proponent of embryonic stem cell research. The August 1969 issue of the American Journal of Diseases of Children explains WI-38 was taken from a voluntary abortion performed in Sweden: "This fetus was chosen by Dr. Sven Gard, specifically for this purpose [use as a vaccine culture]. Both parents are known, and unfortunately for the story, they are married to each other, still alive and well, and living in Stockholm, presumably. The abortion was done because they felt they had too many children."
MRC-5 is derived from the lung tissue of a 14-week-old baby boy. MRC stands for Medical Research Council, a research center funded by British taxpayers. According to Coriell Cell Repositories, "The MRC-5 cell line was developed in September 1966 from lung tissue taken from a 14-week fetus aborted for psychiatric reasons from a 27-year-old physically healthy woman."
Development of the rubella vaccine actually involved not one, but 28 abortions. Twenty-seven abortions were performed to isolate the virus and one abortion (WI-38) to culture the vaccine. The vaccine's strain is called RA 27/3 (R=Rubella, A=Abortus, 27=27th fetus tested, 3=3rd tissue explanted). Rubella, or "German measles," is usually a harmless childhood disease. Ironically, rubella is most dangerous for preborn infants, who have a 20 to 25 percent chance of contracting congenital rubella syndrome if their mothers catch rubella during the first trimester. Scientists at the Wistar Institute took advantage of the 1964-65 rubella epidemic to legally acquire fetal tissue from at least 27 so-called therapeutic abortions conducted on women at risk for rubella. Since the live virus was not detected until the 27th abortion, the preceding 26 abortions were apparently performed on perfectly healthy babies. By contrast, Japanese researchers obtained a live virus by swabbing the throat of an infected child.
Cooperation with Abortion
In ethical parlance, using vaccines manufactured from fetal tissue entails "material cooperation" with abortion. Material cooperation may or may not be sinful depending on the circumstances surrounding the act. Four conditions determine whether using such vaccines is licit: the seriousness of the sin of abortion, the necessity of vaccination, the possibility of causing scandal, and the vaccines' role in encouraging additional abortions. Many pro-life ethicists believe using these vaccines constitutes "remote material cooperation" with abortion cooperation excused by the distance of the consumer from the original abortions, the necessity of vaccine use, and the unlikelihood that purchasing the vaccines will cause future abortions. In August 2001, the U.S. bishops issued a statement allowing that parents "when they have no practical alternative, may use vaccines to protect their health and the health of their loved ones without serious sin, even if the vaccines were cultured in fetal cells that ultimately came from an elective abortion." The bishops were forced to address the question when President Bush used the abortion-tainted chicken pox vaccine to justify federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
But "practical alternatives" do exist for these vaccines. No medical necessity requires the vaccines to be cultured on aborted fetal tissue. Safe and effective inoculations grown on animal cells or chick embryos are available for all but chicken pox, hepatitis A, and rubella diseases mild enough to allow for the acquisition of natural immunity. Eighty-five to 90 percent of children develop immunity to chicken pox and rubella by the sixth grade. Hepatitis A is almost completely unknown in the United States not because of the vaccine, which was introduced only in 1995 but as a result of public sanitation systems. In countries where hepatitis A is prevalent, 70 percent of preschoolers who contract the disease don't even exhibit symptoms. Most children's chances of being harmed by chicken pox, hepatitis A, or rubella are arguably equal to risks associated with adverse reactions to the vaccines themselves.
Using abortion-tainted vaccines encourages abortion just as does purchasing any other product derived from fetal tissue. Indeed, these vaccines were the first fetal tissue therapies to gain widespread acceptance, and their popularity is frequently cited to promote fetal tissue research agendas. Over the past 10 years, numerous congressmen have referred to the vaccines to garner support for federally subsidized research on fetal tissue. The University of Nebraska likewise excused its fetal tissue program by invoking both the vaccines and the Church's toleration of their use. In Forbes v. Napolitano (2001), the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals used the polio vaccine, among other things, to strike down an Arizona law banning experimentation on aborted fetal tissue. The court specifically ruled fetal tissue research must be legal to guarantee women the fullest possible range of "reproductive decisions."
Your Rights as a Parent
Many ethicists, including the bishops, believe these vaccines are distinguishable from other types of fetal tissue research because they "use self-perpetuating cell lines." The cultures that produce these vaccines, however, are not immortal. All normal cells possess a finite lifespan known as the "Hayflick limit." After about 50 divisions, WI-38 and MRC-5 will be exhausted. If, when this day comes, pharmaceutical companies know they can create new cultures from aborted tissue without loss of profit, they will certainly do so because aborted fetal tissue is easier to use and more economical to obtain than other culture mediums. The pharmaceutical industry, in fact, has already developed an additional vaccine culture derived from the "socially indicated," elective abortion of an 18-week-old baby. PER.C6, as the culture is called, is currently being tested for use with at least seven new vaccines.
Absent definitive guidance from the Vatican, parents must determine for themselves after much prayer and study whether they can conscientiously use these vaccines. While most public and private schools require chicken pox and rubella immunizations, the courts have repeatedly affirmed that pro-lifers have a First Amendment right to refuse abortion-tainted vaccines. State public health officials and/or school administrators cannot lawfully second-guess sincere religious or moral objections to vaccine use. In addition to honoring parents' constitutional rights, Catholic school administrators must heed the Church's magisterial teaching regarding the inalienable right and duty of parents to make decisions affecting the welfare of their children.
Parents who object in conscience to abortion-derived vaccines may apply for religious or philosophical exemptions by contacting their state department of health.
Jameson Taylor. "Immunity From Evil?: Vaccines Derived from Abortion." Lay Witness (Jan/Feb. 2003).
This article is reprinted with permission from Lay Witness magazine. Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.
Jameson Taylor is a Ph.D. candidate in political philosophy at the University of Dallas. Mr. Taylor's work spans a broad range of topics including bioethics, personalist philosophy, life and family issues, and American politics. Mr. Taylor writes from Front Royal, VA, where he resides with his wife, Jennifer. He is the author of America's Drug Deal: Vaccines Corruption. For more information go to jamesontaylor.com.
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