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With Due Respect

Use of aborted fetuses in vaccines

As the New Year was dawning, a note released on Dec. 21 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) — signed by its prefect, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, and its secretary, Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, and approved by Pope Francis — averted a brewing dispute on the use of anti-COVID-19 vaccines developed or being developed using cell lines from tissues of aborted human fetuses.

Before this note was issued, Catholic pro-life and anti-abortion groups in the United States (US), Canada, and elsewhere (including non-Catholic Christian communities) raised ethical and faith-based objections to the said vaccines.

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Citing traditional Catholic doctrines, these conservative groups said that five of these vaccines were derived from either

(1) kidney cell lines (called HEK-293) widely used in researches on human fetuses aborted about 1972, or (2) a proprietary cell line—owned by Janssen Research & Development USA, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson—developed from retinal cells (called PER.C6) of an 18-week-old fetus aborted in 1985.

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These vaccine developers are (1) CanSino Biologics/Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, (2) University of Oxford/AstraZeneca,

(3) Janssen Research & Development USA,

(4) University of Pittsburgh, and (5) ImmunityBio/NantK west. The second, AstraZeneca, is of special interest to us because our government led by presidential adviser Joey Concepcion, in partnership with the private sector led by BDO chair Tessie Sy Coson, has ordered 2.6 million doses from this company, and because, at $5 a dose, it is the most affordable.

Notably, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — the favorites in Britain, US, Singapore, Japan, and other advanced countries — do not use these fetal cell lines but are much more expensive. Notable also is the approval — the first ever — by our Food and Drug Administration of the clinical trial of the vaccine developed by Janssen Pharmaceutica of Belgium, also a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.

Addressing objections that the end does not justify the means, the CDF explained that the “kind of cooperation” in the evil of abortion is morally “remote on the part of those injected with the vaccine.” Thus, the “moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation is not obligatory since there exists a grave danger, in the form of an uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent.”

“In such a case,” the CDF continued, “all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in the production of the vaccine derive.” The cell lines were described as “immortal” because they continue to divide and reproduce themselves indefinitely, thereby minimizing — if not totally eliminating — the demand for new fetal tissues.

Historically, cells derived from elective abortions have been used since the 1960s to manufacture vaccines against rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A, and shingles, and to produce drugs against diseases like hemophilia, rheumatoid arthritis, and cystic fibrosis.

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Similarly, progressive Catholic theologians point out that the inhuman experiments performed by the Nazis in concentration camps and mental institutions during World War II led to the development of the anti-malaria drug chloroquine. Also, some US railroads were constructed with slave labor. So, too, California and other US states were acquired as a result of the ugly Mexican-American war provoked by US President James Polk.

Thus, they argue that, without being desensitized by these historical injustices, later generations — who had nothing to do with them — should not be required to decline the use of life-saving drugs derived from them, or the convenience of trains built through slavery, or the freedom to live in the places conquered via said war.

By parity of reasoning, if, 50 years from now, funds plundered from our poor people should be used to discover new wonder drugs and vaccines, or to build new scientific marvels, should the descendants of the plundered refuse to avail of them on the same ground that the end does not justify the means?

As for me and my family, we will follow the CDF in full faith. However, as a law-abiding citizen, I will remain vigilant to make sure our government procures only safe, efficacious, and reasonably-priced vaccines for our people.

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TAGS: aborted fetuses, Artemio V. Panganiban, vaccines, With Due Respect
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