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Vaccination ethics

February 27, 2015
Vicki Evans

A measles outbreak, the safety of childhood vaccinations, and the role of parental rights in choosing to vaccinate or not to vaccinate is all over the news. Incredibly, families on both the left and right ends of the political spectrum are dubious about vaccinating their children from childhood diseases for a variety of reasons. While we’re on the subject of vaccines, this may be a good time to review some moral objections that parents may have about vaccines and what the Vatican has to say about it.

The vaccine created for chickenpox, as well as the combined vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), were all cultured on human cell strains derived from fetuses that were electively aborted in the 1960’s. These fetal cells were not actual ingredients in the vaccines. They were the medium in which the vaccines were cultured or grown. But their origin in aborted fetal tissue would seem to render them illicit. The question many are asking today is, how illicit? Is it ethical for parents to vaccinate their children because of the vaccines’ genesis in abortion? Or does the risk to public health outweigh the fact that these vaccines are morally tainted?

In 2005 the Pontifical Academy for Life published “Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Fetuses.” This reflection explores the moral culpability of the parties who participated in preparing, marketing and using them. As you might expect, the further away you get from the historical abortion itself and the production of the vaccines by pharmaceutical companies, the more moral culpability decreases. Add to the equation the fact that there are no available vaccines in the U.S. that were produced free of these fetal cell strains.

There is a grave duty to use alternative vaccines if they exist and to conscientiously object to those having moral problems. There is also a moral duty to fight and employ every lawful means to change unscrupulous and unethical actions of the pharmaceutical industry with regard to tainted vaccines. If, however, there are no alternate vaccines available and ethically acceptable, and if these vaccines cannot be abstained from without causing harm to the children and indirectly to the population as a whole, the vaccines may be used.

The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them. 

Evans is respect life coordinator for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

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