Written by Fr. Ambrose Astor
Published by Lumen Fidei Institute https://www.lumenfidei.ie
Ethical considerations surrounding vaccines have been debated for some time. It is a hot subject today, as many of the COVID-19 vaccines use stem cells from aborted babies. – Father Ambrose answers essential questions on this important topic.
Q. Is it true that COVID-19 vaccines are created using organs of aborted infants?
A. When we first heard about the experimentation on human embryos and foetuses many years ago, most of us were incredulous. Some still are. It is difficult to imagine the perversion of the human heart which justifies the use of vital organs of infants, even if the intention is to help others. To use another human being is nothing less than to instrumentalise that person, to turn them into an object to be used and discarded like a dirty rag. This is a grave thing to do to anyone, but the sin is compounded and increases in gravity when that person is innocent and defenceless. Even if we had used the body of only one infant that was spontaneously aborted, it would be a grave injustice.
The Eugenics movement which dawned in the 1920s oversaw the forced institutionalisation and sterilisation of the ‘feebleminded’ and made medical experimentation on human beings ‘acceptable’.1 Following this and well into the 1970s, organ harvesting on live foetuses of gestational ages of 3-4 months was not uncommon.2
To grasp the gravity of the use of aborted foetal cells in the medical field, it is necessary to be aware of the steps required to arrive at a ‘successful’ outcome. The sanitised idea that the development of the cells came from one female infant in 1973 in a wholly isolated incident is misleading, for the very nature of the scientific method involves performing experiments repeatedly until a successful outcome is achieved.
The currently available COVID-19 vaccines utilise foetal stem cells (a parent cell that can keep reproducing) in either their production (by using them as a container to culture the viruses) and/or in their testing (the vaccines are then tested on these cells to elicit safety and response on a cellular level). The majority of foetal stem cells are of the HEK-293 cell line (HEK stands for Human Embryonic Kidney, and 293 indicates the number of experiments required prior to the successful isolation of the cell line). The workbook of the scientist for HEK-293 is not public, so the true number of foetuses used has not been confirmed. It is thought to be likely to be over 100 when compared to similar cell lines. For example, there were numerous foetuses used in the extraction of the cell line denoted by the number -38 (WI-38)3 and 9 foetuses in the lead-up to the development of a cell line denoted by the number -2 (walvax-2).
Another misconception is that organs are salvaged after the abortion. Although this is in itself a heinous crime, the harvesting of organs for medical research is far more premeditated. The following is an excerpt from a 2015 publication in a medical journal regarding the development of a new foetal cell line (walvax-2): ‘The fetal material was provided by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Yunnan Hospital, with legal and ethical agreements from the donator. Before the study, we made strict and comprehensive inclusion criteria in order to guarantee a high-quality cell strain: 1) gestational age 2 to 4 months; 2) induction of labor with the water bag method; 3) the parent’s career should not involve contact with chemicals and radiation; 4) both parents are in good health without neoplastic and genetic diseases, and with no history of human tissue or organ transplantation in the families traced for 3 generations; and 5) no infectious diseases. The tissues from the freshly aborted fetuses were immediately sent to the laboratory for the preparation of the cells.’4
In simple language: several infants of a gestational age of 2-4 months were screened, picked for their gender, race and pristine medical history. The date of the abortion is chosen, labour is induced, organs are extracted while the child is alive (denoted by the word ‘fresh’), then transported. The cause of death is the removal of the organs by vivisection. The method described above in 2015 is virtually unchanged from the method of organ harvesting in 1952.5
In a university application for $2.3 million funding for foetal harvesting in 2016, the method used to guarantee the ‘freshness’ of foetal kidneys is described: ‘Labour induction will be used to obtain the tissue. We record the warm ischemic time on our samples and take steps to keep it at a minimum to ensure the highest quality biological specimens. We get feedback from our users and utilize this feedback to tailor our collection processes on a case-by-case basis to maximize the needs of investigators.’6 The expression ‘warm ischaemia time’ refers to the time that the organ remains at body temperature after its blood supply has been cut.7 In simple language, this refers to the foetus being delivered alive, and the organs extracted with no anaesthesia while the heart is still beating and blood is circulating. This part is crucial to ensure viability of the organs.
In any court of law, a crime that used such methods would be called pre-meditated mass murder and torture. It cries to Heaven for vengeance. It is so grave that no reason whatsoever can ever justify it. Up to here, it is to be hoped that all those who bear the name of Christian will be in agreement. It is a clear violation of the Fifth Commandment, Thou shalt not kill.
What’s more, Church teaching has consistently and systematically condemned abortion, in all its forms – whether
therapeutic or for science. Pope Pius XII, in his famous address to midwives, left no doubt about the matter: ‘The life of an innocent person is sacrosanct, and any direct attempt or aggression against it is a violation of one of the fundamental laws without which secure human society is impossible. … Never forget this: there rises above every human law and above every “indication” the faultless law of God’.8
Q. Agreed, but the baby was going to be aborted anyway. Once it’s dead, can’t we use its body?
A. There is only one moral thing to do with all these body remains, and that is to bury them with dignity and honour as having been the body of an immortal soul. Any use of these remains, for any reason whatsoever, is a grave violation of the moral law. It is not permissible to perform any kind of experiment on these remains, even under the pretext of saving other lives. It is grievously offensive to God to allow the performance of any such experiment, for such a sin is comparable to cannibalism, which is the use of human flesh for the purpose of nourishing other human flesh.
Pope John Paul II made it clear that experimentation on human beings is wrong: ‘No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God
which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church. This evaluation of the morality of abortion is to be applied also to the recent forms of intervention on human embryos which, although carried out for purposes legitimate in themselves, inevitably involve the killing of those embryos. This is the case with experimentation on embryos, which is becoming increasingly widespread in the field of biomedical research and is legally permitted in some countries…. [T]he use of human embryos or foetuses as an object of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just as to every person. This moral condemnation also regards procedures that exploit living human embryos and foetuses – sometimes specifically “produced” for this purpose by in vitro
fertilisation – either to be used as “biological material” or as providers of organs or tissue for transplants in the treatment of certain diseases. The killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act’.9
Q. But isn’t the situation different with the medicines and vaccines that have already been produced from those stem cells, after the fact?
A. The Holy See has addressed this question on a number of occasions, the most recent being in December 2020, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a ‘Note on the morality of using some anti-COVID-19 vaccines’ (hereafter referred to simply as ‘Note’).10 Basing itself on the principle that such an action would not be a participation in the sin of abortion, but only a form of cooperation that is passive, material and remote, the Note declares such cooperation to be licit, on certain conditions. These conditions, as we shall see, have been largely overlooked if not completely ignored.
Q. What are the conditions required to make the use of COVID-19 vaccines (and other abortion tainted products) morally permissible?
A. A careful reading of the Note reveals no less than seven conditions for the licit use of the COVID-19 vaccines:
1) there must be a grave danger that requires recourse to the vaccines;
2) there must be no other effective means of dealing with the virus;
3) there must be no ethical vaccines available;
4) the vaccines must be safe;
5) the vaccines must be effective;
6) one must voice one’s opposition to the procedure by which the vaccine was made possible;
7) vaccination must be voluntary, without coercion.
Let us examine these conditions, keeping in mind that if any one of these conditions is absent, then the recourse to these vaccines (or products) is illicit.
Condition 1 – Grave Danger – It is not hard to prove that the gravity of COVID-19 has been overstated on every continent, and lockdowns have been excessive, harmful and with little scientific basis.11 The initial fears and repressive measures have given many the impression that we were dealing with a true pandemic with the potential to wipe out all of humanity. This was a major factor in the Holy See’s decision to allow the use of the vaccines. However, it is a matter of public record that the situation is not and has never been as serious as it is made out to be. As a matter of fact, the consistent median infection fatality rate (IFR) has been a mere 0.05% in the general population globally.12
Condition 2 – Lack of Alternatives – There are many highly effective treatment protocols of COVID-19,13 backed
up by robust data, published by leading professors, doctors and scientists around the world.14 If these treatments had not been suppressed, there would have been virtually no deaths at all from the virus as evidenced by the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India (20 million people) which has a vaccination rate of 5% and only 100 cases in total,15 compared to first world countries such as Israel with a vaccination rate of 85% and an estimated daily count of 5000 cases and 30 deaths. Medical professionals globally are decrying the suppression of highly effective treatments in Western countries as a violation of human rights and are highlighting that the driving force behind the vaccine mandates is the profit of pharmaceutical companies.16
Condition 3 – Lack of Ethical Vaccines – A number of ethically produced vaccines are being developed. Unfortunately, almost all governments have favoured the development of those which use foetal cell lines. There are no doubt some major financial interests here. We must ask, however, whether a disease that has a global median survival rate of 99.95% requires a vaccine at all, particularly when much of the evidence points to excellent treatment outcomes with existing medication.
Condition 4 – Safety – Up to now, the vaccines have been demonstrably unsafe with a disproportionate risk of death from the vaccine itself. In the US alone in a period of 11 months there have been over 18,000 reported deaths and 1.6 million adverse events.17 In Australia, the deaths in 2021 attributed to vaccines have virtually equalled the deaths by COVID-19.18 In the same country, the rollout among young adults is notably causing pericarditis/myocarditis, (inflammation of the heart that can potentially lead to heart failure and life-long dependence on medication or death) with a total of 1100 cases in 10 months.19 Previous vaccines have been withdrawn after a total of 50 deaths worldwide.
Condition 5 – Efficacy of Vaccines – It is impossible to ascertain concretely at this stage the effectiveness of the
vaccines given they remain entirely experimental and constitute an active clinical trial.20 However, data that has
been gathered from countries like Israel shows unimpressive efficacy of the vaccines, often veiled in misleading ways when communicated to the public.21 Most recently, a study across 68 countries concludes that present vaccination is not effective in reducing COVID-19 cases and that public health measures need to be reviewed.22
Condition 6 – Public Opposition – It is a sad fact that one almost never hears of any such voice being raised, especially from the Holy See and the Bishops’ Conferences. Given the enormity of the crime involved in harvesting and exploiting organs from infants, even if all the other conditions had been fulfilled, we have every right to expect from our Bishops a united, consistent and strong demand that ethical alternatives be promptly made available, and that an end be put to the trafficking of human lives. Regarding this duty, the Pontifical Academy for Life states: ‘Doctors and fathers of families have a duty to take recourse to alternative vaccines (if they exist), putting pressure on the political authorities and health systems so that other vaccines without moral problems become available. They should take recourse, if necessary, to the use of conscientious objection with regard to the use of vaccines produced by means of cell lines of aborted human foetal origin. Equally, they should oppose by all means (in writing, through the various associations, mass media, etc.) the vaccines which do not yet have morally acceptable alternatives, creating pressure so that alternative vaccines are prepared, which are not connected with the abortion of a human foetus, and requesting rigorous legal control of the pharmaceutical industry producers… In any case, there remains a moral duty to continue to fight and to employ every lawful means in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically.’
Some have also argued, quite convincingly, that the Holy See’s permission to use these vaccines has actually increased world-wide the demand for more experimentation on foetal tissue, thereby encouraging the ongoing industrialisation of human remains. This demand is demonstrably visible in medical journals advocating the use of testing of new COVID-19 vaccines, not just on the HEK-293 cell lines, but also on ‘humanised mice’ and ‘lung only mice’.23 This term refers to laboratory mice which have organs grafted onto them from foetuses aged 2-5 months (according to the method of extraction described above). These ‘humanised mice’ have already been extensively funded and official documents state that the foetuses, some up to 6 months gestation, were bought for $12,000 per box. Most of the purchases (for grafting onto mice) were for intact thymuses and livers which were promptly shipped – ‘fresh; on wet ice’.24
When we imagine what effect an adamant ‘No’ from the Holy See and the Bishops could have had, we are led to ask some very troubling questions about who was really behind this decision and why our hierarchy has been so culpably cowardly.
Condition 7 – No Mandates or Coercion – The draconian measures by governments globally to mandate
vaccines that are still in a clinical trial are in direct contravention of international agreements and indeed of the
most fundamental principles of the Natural Law. Unfortunately, many doctors themselves seem to have set aside the requirement of guaranteeing their patients the right to informed consent and the right to refuse. There are however thousands of doctors who are protesting this and are publicly calling out the current events in the medical field as ‘crimes against humanity’25. These voices are being categorically censored.
On this topic, the Nuremberg Code (1947) stipulates that for human experimentation ‘the voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, overreaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision’. Any coercion to receive a vaccine not fully tested violates this code. This is something that all health care professionals should consider very carefully, for during the Nuremberg trials, it was made clear that no one may refer a decision of conscience to any superior. When human life is at stake, each person has the grave obligation to find out the facts for himself and to obey the Natural Law at all times. It is to be feared that many of our present-day leaders, both in the state and in the Church, are guilty of complicity that may be condemned in the not-too-distant future. History never forgets nor does it pardon this sort of crime.
Given all this, we can safely conclude that the conditions laid out by the Congregation in its Note having not been met, it is not licit to receive the presently available COVID-19 vaccines.
Q. Is then the Holy See’s position, correct?
A. The principle of material, passive, remote cooperation is well-known in moral theology and stands up to scrutiny. It is very debatable whether or not it applies in this case. One can certainly argue, without prejudice to the prerogatives of the Holy See, that the Note does not properly apply the principle in this case for the following five reasons:
1) it presupposes that the vaccines actually give immunity from the virus, but we know now that this is not the case;26,27
2) it does not take into account the proportionality between presumed benefits and adverse side-effects;28
3) it fails to take into consideration the exceptional gravity of the matter: the absolute inviolability of an innocent human body and the necessary, even if remote, connection with the gravely immoral use of another human to create the vaccine;
4) by giving its blessing to the use of the vaccine in certain cases, it has opened the door to the proliferation of foetal experimentation;
5) finally, it argues on original analysis that this was to be a pandemic of catastrophic proportions with no
effective treatment – both of which have been categorically refuted. The very least one can say is that the Note requires revision.
Q. Does this mean that those who have received the vaccine have committed a mortal sin?
A. Anyone who has received a vaccine that was made possible thanks to the abuse of an innocent infant is marked in their flesh by the abuse of that infant, regardless of their intentions. This being said, even if in itself it is gravely immoral to have recourse to such vaccines, due to the social pressure and the encouragements of the hierarchy, it would seem that in most cases, moral culpability for the average lay person is diminished if not removed altogether. Those who have received the vaccine should, however, examine their conscience and ask themselves what exactly they knew at the time. If they knew nothing about the ethical issues, was this for lack of having taking the trouble to find out? Ignorance is sometimes culpable. However in those who have a duty to know (priests, doctors, government officials, judges…), it is always culpable. In any case, those who have already
received one or more doses need to refrain from receiving any ‘boosters’.
Q. So we must stand by our conscience and refuse, even if our superiors, priests or doctors encourage us to get vaccinated?
A. On the duty to obey conscience there is ample matter in the Church’s tradition. St John Henry Newman has been, in modern times, the best-known defender of the rights and duties of conscience: ‘Conscience,’ he writes ‘is not a longsighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself; but it is a messenger from Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ, a prophet in its informations, a monarch in its peremptoriness, a priest in its blessings and anathemas, and, even though the eternal priesthood throughout the Church could cease to be, in it the sacerdotal principle would remain and would have a sway’.29 The reason for this, St Bonaventure teaches, is that ‘conscience is like God’s herald and messenger; it does not command things on its own authority, but commands them as coming from God’s authority, like a herald when he proclaims the edict of the king. This is why conscience has binding force’.30
This point is of such great importance that I believe it my duty to exhort everyone, especially bishops, priests, politicians and doctors, to be mindful that they are in grave spiritual danger if they use any kind of moral persuasion to encourage the reception of these vaccines, for in doing so, not only are they running the terrible risk of having deaths and injuries on their conscience, but they are also abusing the consciences of those whose rights they should be defending. It remains gravely scandalous that to this day, very few pastors have taken the public defence of the rights of conscience in this matter, and I call upon them today to do so. “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1790).
A final word to my confrere priests and moral theologians: In the days of Paul VI and John Paul II, many in our ranks rejected their teachings on abortion and contraception in the name of a false notion of the autonomy of conscience. Today, some of them are telling us that we cannot put conscience forwards as a valid reason for refusing vaccines, but we must ‘embrace the vision of Pope Francis’. We should not be surprised that so many Catholics will have nothing to do with such rhetoric, and instead choose to follow their reason, their conscience and their sensus fidei. Many Catholics feel betrayed when they see so many of the clergy appearing to side with the agenda of a force that is actively promoting the industrialisation of the human body through desecration and murder of the innocent – either through direct complicity, wilful blindness or cowardly silence.
Let the brave Bishops of Kazakhstan have the final word: ‘More than ever, we need the spirit of the confessors and martyrs who avoided the slightest suspicion of collaboration with the evil of their own age. Some churchmen in our day reassure the faithful by affirming that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine derived from the cell lines of an aborted child is morally licit if an alternative is not available. They justify their assertion on the basis of “material and remote cooperation” with evil. Such affirmations are extremely antipastoral and counter-productive, especially when one considers the increasingly apocalyptic character of the abortion industry, and the inhuman nature of some biomedical research and embryonic technology. Now more than ever, Catholics categorically cannot encourage and promote the sin of abortion, even in the slightest, by accepting these vaccines. Therefore, as Successors of the Apostles and Shepherds responsible for the eternal salvation of souls, we consider it impossible to be silent and maintain an ambiguous attitude regarding our duty to resist with
“maximum of determination” (Pope John Paul II) against the “unspeakable crime” (II Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 51) of abortion’.31
Father Ambrose is a Catholic priest and theologian. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org