A scientist checks quality control of COVID-19 vaccine vials for correct volume at the Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility in Oxford, England, April 2, 2020. CNS photo/Sean Elias, handout via Reuters

Editorial: An ethical solution

  • May 14, 2020

Medical experts worldwide are racing to create a COVID-19 vaccine. Of course, these efforts should be encouraged and well funded because normal life won’t return until an effective vaccine is developed and distributed around the world.

Yet it would be a mistake to turn this into a mad dash that disregards widely held moral principles governing respect for the dignity of all human life. It is important that governments also fund research for a vaccine that not only is effective but is universally accepted because it severs a half-century history of using descendent cells of aborted fetuses.

Developing a vaccine is just the first step to contain the virus. The second is creating global immunity by ensuring people get vaccinated.

The objective should be producing a vaccine that not only works but is one that people will roll up their sleeves in good conscience to receive.

That’s not always the case with modern vaccines. Many are linked to cells taken in the early 1970s from aborted fetuses. This distant relationship makes them morally tainted because they are byproducts of a terminated human life.

Descendants of these cells survive in laboratories today and early this month researchers at Oxford University in England announced human trials of a COVID-19 vaccine linked to these legacy cells. They aren’t alone. At least seven similar trials are ongoing globally, although it is unclear how many are based on derivatives of aborted fetal cells.

The issue is complex. The Church teaches that any disrespect of human dignity is a grave sin, yet the Vatican acknowledges that it can be morally tolerable to use a vaccine that has immoral roots if there is no alternative and if failing to vaccinate poses a health risk not just to the individual, but to their families and others in the community. However, there is always a corresponding obligation to seek morally sound options or, if none exist, to advocate for the creation of them.

Christians have a fundamental responsibility to care for others and protect them from harm. That is why churches are closed and we are staying in our homes. We are respecting all human life, not just our own.

The potential for an effective vaccine is exciting but, as has been reported, any vaccine with a link to abortion will pose an ethical dilemma for millions of people. Yet in the midst of a pandemic that already has taken more than 250,000 lives, only a naive person can expect a public outcry to halt any credible research. Not while the death toll rises.

But there must be an equally urgent call to develop a vaccine that uses modern science to break the chain with the abortion-related solutions of the past.

The current crisis should become a laboratory to create a life-saving vaccine that in every way substantiates the sanctity of human life.

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