Vaccines, Abortion & Fetal Tissue
For several years now, information has circulated among prolife groups and individuals regarding the development of very common vaccines through the use of tissue taken from aborted babies. While initially the reports and information were not conclusively documented, further detailed research by several prolife groups has provided direct proof of a connection between aborted fetal tissue and most vaccines. That connection, and its implications for whether prolife citizens should consider using the vaccines, raises some complicated issues. In sorting through those issues, this LifeNotes will address the basic science involved, the documentation of the abortion-vaccine connection, the moral/ethical questions about using abortion-tainted vaccines, and information about available alternative vaccines.
Basic Vaccine and Cell Line Science
In order to develop the weakened viral strain, there must be a medium or "cell culture" to grow it in. The virus invades the culture cells, feeds off the cell, matures, and multiplies. The cell cultures are a single type of cell that multiplies itself in a predictable fashion and can be sustained in a laboratory setting for years, even decades. These long-lasting cell cultures are called "cell lines." The original cells that start these cell lines have been taken from a wide variety of sources, from monkey embryo and kidney cells, to chicken and rabbit embryos, and tragically, from aborted human babies. The issue of concern is that many common vaccines were developed using cell lines that originally were cells taken from electively aborted babies. The vaccines themselves do not contain fetal cells, but it is presumed that there is "residual" biological matter from the fetal cells that has been assimilated into the vaccine.
Cell Lines Originating from Aborted Babies
The origin of the MCR-5 cell line, created in 1966, is documented in an article in the journal Nature by three British researchers working at the National Institute for Medical Research. J.P. Jacobs, et. al. write, "We have developed another strain of cells, also derived from foetal lung tissue, taken from a 14-week male foetus removed for psychiatric reasons from a 27 year old woman with a genetically normal family history and no sign of neoplastic disease both at abortion and for at least three years afterward ." Noting that their research parallels that of Dr. Hayflick's development of the WI-38 cell line, the researchers conclude, "Our studies indicate that by presently accepted criteria, MRC-5 cells - in common with WI-38 cells of similar origin - have normal characteristics and so could be used for the same purposes as WI-38 cells ."
In both of these cell lines it is quite clear that the aborted children were presumed to be healthy, and that there was no life-threatening condition or other medically indicated reason for the abortion of these two babies.
There is a more recent cell line, PER C6, developed in 1985, which is being used currently in research to develop vaccines to treat Ebola and HIV. The origin of PER C6 is clearly documented. In direct testimony before the Food and Drug Administration's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, Dr. Alex Van Der Eb, the scientist who developed PER C6, stated:
"So I isolated retina [cells] from a fetus, from a healthy fetus as far as could be seen, of 18 weeks old. There was nothing special in the family history, or the pregnancy was completely normal up to the 18 weeks, and it turned out to be a socially indicated abortus, abortus provocatus, and that was simply because the woman wanted to get rid of the fetus ."
To date, no vaccines have been successfully marketed using the PER C6 cell line, but undoubtedly the cells used to establish PER C6 came from a healthy baby, aborted from a healthy mother for social convenience reasons. While most of the common childhood vaccines used today were developed using the WI-38 and MRC-5 fetal cell lines, there are some vaccines available that were developed using animal cell lines. The tables on the following page indicate the abortion-tainted vaccines, and the available alternatives.
U.S. Produced Vaccines from Aborted Cell Lines
There are Japanese produced alternative vaccines for Rubella and Hepatitis-A, developed from cell lines of rabbit and monkey kidney. These vaccines are available in the U.K., but have not yet been given FDA approval for use in the U.S. If these two alternatives were to become available in the U.S., then Chickenpox would be the only abortion-tainted vaccine without an acceptable alternative.
Should These Vaccines Be Used? The Moral & Ethical Considerations
The moral perspective of those who are utterly opposed to the use of these vaccines is straightforward and equally justifiable. If these vaccines were developed from cell lines taken from Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps, it is not difficult to imagine that there would be widespread, if not universal rejection of those vaccines. Since many prolifers see no difference between the moral magnitude of abortion and the Holocaust, their passionate refusal to use these vaccines is completely understandable.
When dealing with difficult ethical issues like vaccines grown on the tissue of aborted children, one of the main questions to answer is how do individuals act in a moral way when they are acting in a world that is filled with immorality. For example, should a person watch no television programming on a certain network because some of its programming is immoral? It is crucial to remember that the moral nature of any act depends first on the action itself. Secondly, the intention of the individual is also a crucial factor. The further away the current act (using a vaccine) and intent (protecting a child from a disease) of an individual are from a previous immoral act (aborting a child), the less that individual is restricted by the immorality of the previous act. While the act of aborting the child was certainly immoral, all of the steps involved with the development and use of the vaccines thereafter neither cooperated with the abortion, nor intended to promote more such practices, nor intended anything but the preservation of life and health.
The Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, and the U.S. and British bishops conferences have studied the issue in detail and concluded that using the vaccines is morally permissible. However, once a person learns that certain vaccines are morally tainted, there is an obligation to seek out ethical alternatives where possible and to make objections known to health care providers and vaccine manufacturers. In addition, parents are entirely justified in citing a "conscientious objection" to tainted vaccines being used to immunize their children, particularly when the vaccine is not for a substantially threatening illness (Chickenpox, flu). Parents have a right to demand ethical alternatives be used or reject the vaccine if an alternative is not available.
A number of noted prolife activists have weighed in on both sides of the issue. Some have encouraged parents to use and demand nothing less than morally acceptable vaccines . While others like Jack Wilke, M.D., former National Right to Life Committee president and Bernard Nathanson, M.D., prolife activist and creator of "The Silent Scream" have opined that using the vaccines is morally allowable [7,8].
What is unanimous among all commentators on the subject is that everyone ought to know of the facts surrounding the vaccines, and prolife citizens should make an effort to persuade - even pressure - vaccine producers to eliminate their tainted products in favor of ethically acceptable products.
Vaccines & Bioterrorism
2 - Statement by Dr. Stanley Plotkin published in "Gamma Globulin Prophylaxis; Inactivated Rubella Virus; Production and Biological Control of Live Attenuated Rubella Virus Vaccines," American Journal of Diseases of Childhood, Vol. 118, No. 2, 1969, p. 378.
3 - Jacobs, J.P., et. al., "Characteristics of a Human Diploid Cell Designated MRC-5," Nature, Vol. 227, 1970, p. 168.
4 - Ibid, p. 170.
5 - Transcript of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee of the U.S.Food and Drug Administration, hearing date May 16, 2001, Gaithersburg, MD, p.91.
6 - Brown, Judie, President, American Life League, in a letter to the National Catholic Register, April 30-May 6, 2000.
7 - Wilke, J.C., M.D., "Vaccines, Today's Controversy," Life Issues Connector, Life Issues Institute, Cincinnati, OH, July, 2001.
8 - Nathanson, Bernard, M.D., "Vaccines OK'd Despite Dark Past," National Catholic Register, June 18-24, 2000.
Produced by: Right to Life of Michigan, PO Box 901, Grand Rapid, MI 49509, www.rtl.org