In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II declared that “the use of human embryos or fetuses as an object of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just as to every person.”
I don’t think we, as evangelicals, can do better than that statement.
The argument is made by some key Christian organisations that, given the fact that so many pharmaceuticals are implicated in the use of aborted foetal tissues, we need to surrender and simply use the medicines, and especially the COVID vaccine, while lobbying the government for change.
As Stacey Trasancos of Children of God for Life argued, this is about as effective in ending the evil as ‘sporting a sealskin jacket while opposing the killing of baby seals’.
A secular bioethicist similarly stated that unless Protestants make a firmer stance, their objections to covid vaccines produced from aborted foetal cells will not be taken seriously.
And we could make a difference just as the animal liberationists have done before us, even if we did so just for the booster shots. It would be sad if our commitment to human life and dignity being preserved were less than that of vegans in preserving animals as indeed ‘vegans have made statements that taking a vaccine that has been tested on animals is not in agreement with their moral commitments (even if the final product does not contain animal-derived products; Newkey-Burden 2020, The Vegan Society 2020).’
Given the law of supply and demand, if the church public (including a billion Catholics worldwide) demonstrate that they have serious concerns about the use of aborted foetal cells such that they will not take the vaccine, it would send a strong signal to pharmaceutical companies and may serve to discourage the use of aborted foetal tissue in development of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
As the recent expose of secret videos from Planned Parenthood shows, there is, instead, a burgeoning industry which includes ‘trafficking of aborted babies by the University of Pittsburg and Planned Parenthood, and their use of fetal tissue in barbaric lab experiments.’ Indeed the scientific literature is replete with examples. Public concern in the general community is also growing.
Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal organisation defending clients who filmed the secret videos, refers to: “amazing situations” where Planned Parenthood clinics “were taking babies and intentionally aborting them so they could harvest intact organs, some of which were born alive while the hearts were still beating. Hearts were being removed while they were still alive.”
He continued, “Brains were being removed while the hearts were still beating, and we have evidence where they sliced the baby’s face in two with a scalpel and then extracted the brain while the baby was still alive.”’ Staver said that if you revealed this information without stating the age of the victim, you would think this was Nazi Germany.
It is arguably how the foetus used for developing the HEK-239 cell line was treated – the main cell line (but not the only one) used in the development of covid vaccines. She would now be an almost 50 year old woman (so not that remote in time) and she was ‘certainly aborted in collusion with a tissue harvester, otherwise her kidneys would have been dead and the tissue useless.
‘The scientific literature strongly implies that the abortions are carefully coordinated with tissue harvesting. One gets the clear sense that the abortion and the harvesting of the desired tissue were planned to preserve the integrity of the tissue.’
While records have been ‘lost’, it seems almost certain that she was born alive and her kidneys extracted while her heart was still beating – in other words, vivisection of a type considered too cruel to be permitted in animals.
If this seems hard to believe, it is worthwhile reading the recent discussion on Fox News or going to the Center for Medical Progress website. While ‘the recent Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act [UK] stipulates that animal fetuses must be killed in “humane” ways, … no parallel legal provision exists for human fetuses.’
Abortion itself is cruel enough. David Alton at First Things writes:
In an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, researchers say there is now “good evidence” that the brain and nervous system, which start developing at 12 weeks’ gestation, permit the unborn baby to feel pain. … in the U.K., babies undergoing abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation “via surgical dilatation and evacuation”—described by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists as “where the foetus is removed in fragments”—are not provided with pain relief. Neither are babies aborted after 22 weeks through “foeticide, where potassium chloride is injected into the heart to cause immediate cardiac arrest.” Human Rights Watch has highlighted that potassium chloride is “excruciatingly painful if administered […] without proper anaesthesia.”
Bishops Athanasius Schneider and Joseph Strickland et alii argue that “the crime of abortion is so monstrous that any kind of concatenation with this crime, even a very remote one, is immoral and cannot be accepted under any circumstances by a Catholic once he has become fully aware of it.”’
The best way to explain it to a secularist might be to liken it to the repugnance they would feel if the covid vaccine had been developed on a cell-line from the kidney of a political prisoner who had their kidney removed, without consent, prior to their execution.
There is good evidence that large numbers of Christians opposing unethical vaccines and medicines can promote change. For instance, most likely due to pressure from the Catholic Church, ‘Pentacel and Quadracel [vaccines used in Australia] no longer use aborted fetal cell lines’ as noted on their package insert for consumers effective Dec 2019.
In addition, the boycott of Pepsi beverages ended in 2012 as it was successful in forcing the company not to use any aborted foetal cells in PEPSICO research and development. Other companies have done similarly.
And let us not minimise the problem in the case of vaccines. While any murder is wrong and we don’t want to be involved in passive cooperation with this industry, it is commonly pointed out that only one or two aborted foetuses are involved in COVID-19 vaccine development.
I would suggest this is disingenuous or genuinely ignorant as it takes more than one abortion to get a viable cell line. ‘It took 67 abortions to produce rubella virus plus 32 abortions to produce the cell line for cultivation mean[ing] there was a total of at least 99 elective abortions to create the rubella vaccine alone.’ (Details about the use of aborted foetal cell lines in each different COVID vaccine are available here.)
In addition, while we are told that no further aborted foetuses will be necessary for vaccine development, these cell lines are not immortal and, at most, may supply a couple of decades more and shortage has recently seen the Chinese develop their own cell line from a newly aborted foetus.
It is worthwhile remembering the scale of the problem – abortion deaths are the leading worldwide cause of death. Last year, ‘over 42 million unborn babies [were] killed, resulting in more deaths than the combined total caused by cancer, disease, HIV/AIDS, traffic accidents, smoking, and alcohol, data collected by the Worldometer has revealed.’.
The fact is that if we don’t draw the line here, we will only find it harder to draw the line in future. Why, you might ask? For one thing, there is the development of a fetal cell atlas. ‘This will map molecular-level genetic changes throughout gestation, requiring a steady supply of fetuses. … the fetal cell atlas alone is predicted to end most pediatric deaths.’
In a few years time, you may be sitting in a doctor’s office faced with the ethical dilemma of using a life-saving medicine or procedure for your child but one that is morally objectionable given it was built on the death of other children. Will we simply sit there once again saying that in certain situations “Licit, passive, remote, mediate cooperation in evil” is allowable when right now we are knowingly cooperating for a vaccine against a disease that has a survival rate higher than 99.918% for anyone under 50 and which doesn’t rise to 99.7% until you get to the over 70s?
Surely, this would be the time to make a stand. Is the fact that ethical vaccines for COVID are not being developed rather heavily predicated on the fact that we cooperated with the system over the last few decades in using morally objectionable common childhood vaccines where we could have demanded ethical alternatives that already existed – usually other vaccine brands?
The only exception where there are truly no alternatives being chicken pox which is hardly the plague. I would argue that our involvement is less passive, remote and licit than we realise because we are in a democracy where our votes, our voices and the use of our freedom to choose could have made a real difference and still can.
With covid, we can not only conscientiously object to unethical vaccines but, likewise, we could be much more proactive in demanding that governments pour some of the huge resources spent on vaccine research into research on early treatment and multi-drug therapies (which is nearly non-existent) and give provisional approval to early treatments that are given to vaccines as so many scientists are calling for.
In fact, in Texas, there are now 35 early treatment centres and everyone who gets a positive covid test receives immediate early treatment while in quarantine. This is proving vital given the porous border with Mexico and the constant inundation of thousands of illegal refugees – something Australia does not have to contend with.
Indeed, while vaccination seems a good public health strategy for reducing symptoms, there is still no body of research showing it prevents transmission of the delta strain to others and some suggestion that it may even increase transmission as vaccinated people are more likely to be asymptomatic carriers.
It remains a medicine that reduces symptoms before it wanes (after about 6 months) with at least two key vaccine researchers recently resigning from the FDA to warn against vaccine boosters.
Rev. Michael Jensen reminds us of the sacredness of the human being and the fact that ‘there is a near universal recognition across cultures and religions that, in some way, our bodies do not belong to others’ – that even grave robbery was banned, despite the beneficial medical discoveries that might result, because it is recognised that even in death our bodies must be treated in line with the wishes of their owners.
We have been warned by at least one minister of religion not to ‘rashly accept convenient, utilitarian conclusions’. In desperation to escape lockdown, it can be easy to turn a blind eye to the government’s means.
The idea that it is sometimes permissible to benefit from evil as, for example, from medical advances from Nazi experimentation, without being morally culpable ourselves, is a false analogy. The Nazi rule and experimentation has ended. If it were an ongoing practice, as experiments with aborted foetal cells are, then being complicit with the system would make us somewhat morally culpable.
Perhaps the first thing we could do is remember that weighing the good of others may mean doing everything we can to protect medical autonomy for all, including the unborn baby, and freedom of conscience.
This is foundational to a free society. Harlan Fiske Stone, later Chief Justice, drew from the Nation’s past when he declared that:
Both morals and sound policy require that the state should not violate the conscience of the individual. All our history gives confirmation to the view that liberty of conscience has a moral and social value which makes it worthy of preservation at the hands of the state. So deep in its significance and vital, indeed, is it to the integrity of man’s moral and spiritual nature that nothing short of the self-preservation of the state should warrant its violation; and it may well be questioned whether the state which preserves its life by a settled policy of violation of the conscience of the individual will not in fact ultimately lose it by the process. [bold mine]Stone, The Conscientious Objector, 21 Col. Univ. Q. 253, 269 (1919).
“To be sure, there are many times when ‘conscience’ has been abused as an excuse for defying both civil and moral authority,” says Debi Vinnedge, Executive Director of Children of God for Life. “However, each of these violates the very principles of the Natural law. These are not really ‘judgments’ of conscience but rather, free autonomous ‘decisions’. (cf. Veritatis Splendor). In light of these exploitations of religious conscience, it is understandable why someone with only a cursory knowledge of the aborted fetal vaccine issue might view those abstaining with cautious suspicion.”
Hopefully, this is no longer the case. Christians have a vital role in society of giving a voice to the voiceless and continuing to oppose the use of aborted foetal tissue as coming from people made in the image of God – and even more so in the present crisis.