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Vaccines and abortion?

Published: 24 March 2012 (GMT+10)

We regularly receive emails asking about the use of aborted fetuses in developing vaccines; Kevin M., Canada, wrote in requesting comments in more detail. Dr Jonathan Sarfati’s responses are interspersed.

doctor performing a typhoid vaccination in Texas, 1943

A doctor performing a typhoid vaccination in Texas, 1943.

Dear Dr M.

Dear CMI, First off, I would like to say thank you for your all your good work; your website, the Creation magazine and the Journal of Creation are all extremely informative and useful and have been of great encouragement to me. Through 3 years of university majoring in biochemistry and 4 years of dental school, I faced a barrage of evolutionary teaching. Your resources have emboldened my faith.

We are happy that our work has been helpful.

I am responding to two articles on your website: 1. Vaccines and Genesis-Questions and Answers on Vaccinations and the Immune System and 2. Are vaccines biblical, safe or effective? The main point that I am addressing was brought up by someone by the name of Rachel in article #2 above where she writes: "And it is FACT that some vaccines are made using the medium of tissue cells of aborted fetuses!" to which the reply by Dr. Carl Wieland was:

“Abortion is a tragic evil, and the articles should have made clear that we don’t for a minute condone or support that, but oppose it in the strongest possible terms. This should be clear in general from Q&A: Human Life Abortion and Euthanasia. In fact, we would prefer it if you didn’t use such a medicalese term like ‘fetus’ for unborn baby, because this tends to perpetuate the notion that it is somehow less than a baby. That’s unless one would be likewise prepared to use the medicalese ‘gravida’ for the pregnant mother.”

And that was very reasonable. Whoever controls the language wins the debate, so we should not follow the pro-aborts with their selective medicalese which dehumanizes the unborn in the eyes of many laypeople. And the answer also made it clear that we oppose abortion, including to generate vaccine culture media.

In my opinion, the point posed by Rachel was not directly addressed by Dr Wieland. Indeed, it is a fact that many of the vaccines used today have been developed using aborted fetal cell lines (Certainly I do not normally use the word "fetal" however this is the name commonly used to refer to these cell lines derived from aborted babies). Two of the most common aborted fetal cell lines are MRC-5 which has been used to make the hepatitis A vaccine, the hepatitis A&B vaccine, the Polio combination vaccine, and others, and the WI-38 cell line which has been used to make the Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccine, and others.

OK, since this reply was made, I answered a pro-life friend who had asked a related question about the rabies vaccine being grown in human embryos. I replied:

I have my doubts about that. The rabies vaccine goes back to the creationist chemist and biologist Louis Pasteur (1822–1895), who infected rabbits; then after they died, he dried out their nerve tissue to weaken the germ. He gave it to Joseph Meister, a 9-year-old boy bitten by a rabid dog. The boy never developed rabies. Rabies vaccine is still made that way sometimes.

Now it seems that most rabies is cultured on embryonic eggs—but chicken not humans. Another version uses fetal lung tissue culture from Rhesus monkeys. Note that viruses are not like bacteria, that can be cultured on nutrients; viruses are non-living biological machines that must hijack genuinely living cells to reproduce.

The one objectionable version of the vaccine is that cultured on cells derived from a male baby who was aborted in the UK in 1966. This is a cell line coming from continual reproduction of cells from that, not embryos per se. No new embryos are being generated for the purpose of culturing vaccines (this is immoral). The vaccine makers had nothing to do with the abortions.

Here is a Roman Catholic statement about the morality of using such vaccines.1 I.e. we should avoid and seek alternatives if possible, unless it is necessary to save our lives or those of children. After all, would we refuse a life-saving organ that was from a victim of a drunk driver for example who listed “Organ Donor” on the driver’s license, because he was killed in a sinful way?

Another paper from Christianity and Pharmacy says much the same.2

The Vatican has taken this issue so seriously that it wrote a letter on it, seen here (though I do not agree with the conclusion that using these vaccines is acceptable merely because there is no alternative): Moral reflections on vaccines prepared from cells derived from aborted human foetuses, Pontifical Academy for Life, for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, 9 June 2005.

Must be the same as what I quoted. But notice the principle: it was not supporting killing more babies, but using the cell lines from a baby already killed decades ago. That deed was unfortunately done, and cannot be undone. There is also no evidence that it would lead to more abortions. The second paper I quote explains the "principle of double effect", which I also invoked in What about abortion to save the mother’s life?

Now it is clear that CMI is strongly pro-life, and it is also clear from your article "Stem cells and Genesis" that you oppose embryonic stem cell research due to its obvious connection with abortion.

Or rather, they both have the common connection to the beginning of life from conception (fertilization).

In light of the reality that many vaccines today are intricately linked with aborted children, how can CMI not oppose these vaccines?

As shown above, the link is to two aborted children from 40 years ago, as wrong as that was. But especially since there is no more abortion for the purpose of generating vaccines, using the relatively few vaccines from these babies does not entail supporting how they were generated.

Why should Christians be willing to compromise our ethical standards because the medical profession at large says we’d be foolish not to?

This is begging the question about whether there is a compromise. Not only is there that double effect principle above, but also the general biblical principle of a hierarchy of morals or graded absolutism: if two moral principles conflict, the greater principle exempts one from the obligation to the lesser one. (One thinks of the common example of someone in WWII-era Germany, or the countries it occupied, lying to the Nazis about the Jews he is hiding.)

Even if vaccines could save some lives, though the evidence for this is arguable at best,

I disagree, as would those who suffered horribly from rabies, smallpox and polio.3

how can we not think of Jesus’ words in Luke 9:24, "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it." (Also see Matt 16:25 and Mark 8:35).

Indeed, and that would apply to those who would commit murder, of born of unborn humans, to save one’s life. It would not apply to those who see no reason to add still more deaths to the atrocities of the two murdered babies from >40 years ago without any gain in return.

Thank you for your consideration of this most important subject.

Sincerely in Christ
Dr Kevin M.

In Christ

Dr Jonathan Sarfati, for Dr Carl Wieland at his request.

References and notes

  1. Moral reflections on vaccines prepared from cells derived from aborted human foetuses, immunize.org, accessed 13 March 2012. Return to Text.
  2. J.D. Grabenstein, Moral considerations with certain viral vaccines, Christianity and Pharmacy 2(2):3–6, 1999, accessed 13 March 2012 from immunizationinfo.org. Return to Text.
  3. See also 9 anti-vaccination myths busted with science by Dr Rachael Dunlop, 12 November 2011 (off-site). Return to Text.