Isn’t tissue from an aborted fetus involved in making the Covid-19 vaccines?

For a Christian, this is the most serious objection to taking the Covid-19 vaccine that I have heard. Here (in a nutshell) are the facts as I have found in my research.

According to the Nebraska Medical Center and the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement in Minnesota, and quoting ICSI:

For the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, no fetal cell lines were used to produce or manufacture the vaccine, and they are not inside the injection you receive from your doctor/nurse. Fetal cells may have been used to test efficacy and/or proof of concept.

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine did use fetal cell cultures, specifically PER.C6 (a retinal cell line that was isolated from a terminated fetus in 1985), in order to produce and manufacture the vaccine.

Other sources indicate that fetal cell lines were, indeed, used to test the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. So there you have it. This is far from an ideal circumstance for pro-life Christians, and some are refusing vaccination because of this. Let’s be clear: This is not a health risk issue for anyone taking the vaccine. It is an ethical issue based on the means used to produce and test the vaccines. There are a number of reliable sources of more information.

This is not a unique situation for the Covid-19 vaccine. Many vaccines – say for chicken pox, rubella, and rabies – make similar use of fetal cells. Other medications are tested or produced using fetal cells. Cosmetics and some food additives are developed or tested with fetal cells. All of this makes me uncomfortable. It should make all of us uncomfortable. There is serious research progressing toward finding other ways to develop and test medicines and products that are less fraught with ethical concerns, and one hopes that this will become a thing of the past. But we live here, today. So what to do?

As followers of Jesus we are not against tissue donation per se. For example, it can be an act of loving care to donate a kidney, or designate that one’s organs and tissue be donated after one dies. What if a pregnant woman spontaneously aborts and donates her dead child’s tissue to medical use? What if parents of a dying child donate the retinas of the child after death to be used to help others?

But abortion on demand is a different thing. An unborn child dies by someone’s choice. We generally object to one human killing another to get their organs or tissue! And to be fair, those having abortions would most likely shudder at this description and deny that this is what they did. We can imagine those perspectives; we’ve heard them a thousand times. But what about those who view abortion as simply wrong? Must we then refuse vaccines developed or tested using fetal tissue from an abortion?

You’ll have to make up your own mind about this, as do we all. But don’t allow it to be a political statement about Covid-19 more generally, the way this disease has become a political football in America. And be consistent. If you are going to refuse vaccination for Covid-19 on these grounds, then by all means find out what other products are developed in ways you consider unethical and avoid those too! And then, like Christians have done through the ages, accept the consequences of your decision. Those consequences may mean loss of a job or not being allowed to attend various functions in person because of public health concerns.

What do I decide? I decide to live in the imperfect world I was born into. I live on (and “own”) property that was arguably stolen away from Mexico who arguably stole it away from native Americans who arguably stole it away from some other human group before them. I live in an economy in which people of my race built much wealth by violently oppressing others who didn’t look like them. I live in a nation formed by the violent revolution of one set of “Christians” against another set of “Christians” who killed each other until one group gave up because the war was too expensive (shades of Afghanistan?). Meanwhile, my ancestors who argued at the time that God’s people shouldn’t be shooting one another with muskets, rifles, and cannons were persecuted and had their churches confiscated by the revolutionaries. Pile up the list of unethical things that go into making the world, nation, society, and wealth that we live in and on…. It is pretty awful looking. And of course I don’t want to ignore that there are the good and noble things that reflect the image of God well, too – like medical researchers doing their best to save lives by producing vaccines that protect against awful diseases.

That’s the kind of world into which Jesus came. He entered into and worshiped at a temple built by Herod the Great, who attempted to murder him when Jesus was a baby – and who successfully murdered numerous others. He accepted a traitorous tax collector as one of his disciples. He ate bread made from wheat some of which was undoubtedly produced by slave labor. He ate meals with tax collectors and prostitutes. And so on. And He spoke the truth of a better way, under God.

Paul wrote that we should not participate in the feasts at temples to other gods, but that Christians need not be concerned about eating food purchased in the market that had been sacrificed to the idols of other gods at their temples. Perhaps this is the closest parallel in the early church to these vaccines available in the “medical marketplace” of our day. Of course, Paul also told us not to violate our consciences or put stumbling blocks up for others of “weaker” conscience. There’s much room for us to live out our lives in a fallen world while maintaining a clear witness to Jesus, His ways, and His kingdom.

Choose wisely. I chose to take the Covid-19 (and other) vaccines and medications offered to me, while simultaneously advocating that we find better ways to develop them. Why should my neighbor potentially get sick and die when I can take this step to protect the living around me? Will more death improve this fallen world? Will I increase the frequency of unborn children dying by taking the vaccine? I think not. In fact, Covid-19 infections in pregnant mothers will increase this more. Am I denying Christ by taking this vaccine? Certainly not! The past is past. What steps can you and I take to make a positive difference for the future, showing care and concern for our families and communities?

Note that the article from the Nebraska Medical Center was written by an infectious disease expert who is a practicing Catholic.

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