The quandary is real for many Catholics because in the production of vaccines, cell lines from aborted foetuses are often used. The Catholic Church has addressed these concerns via the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), in a statement Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines. It was signed by the Prefect, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, and the Secretary, Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, and approved by Pope Francis on December 17.
The essential message is that it is ethical, despite the use of cells from the aborted, to receive the vaccine, and bishops around the world have sought to reiterate. The statement of the CDF builds on discussions on the morality of the issue in three previous documents issued by relevant bodies in the Church: the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) in 2005; the CDF Instruction Dignitas Personae in 2008; and another note from the PAV in 2017.
In Dignitas Personae, which was approved by Pope Benedict XVI, and Note on Responsibility, there is a clear outline of the nature of responsibility for the recipients of vaccines. “There exist differing degrees of responsibility”, because “in organizations where cell lines of illicit origin are being utilized, the responsibility of those who make the decision to use them is not the same as that of those who have no voice in such a decision” (Dignitas Personae). The Note, building on this premise states, “when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available”, it is “morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process” (‘Vatican CDF says use of anti-Covid vaccines “morally acceptable”’, Vatican News).
Lack of alternative in the face of a crisis
The US Bishops in their statement of December 14, 2020, Moral Considerations Regarding the New Covid-19 Vaccines gave an overview of the use the aborted foetuses’ cell lines in the vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer, and Astra Zeneca. They concluded that “while neither vaccine [Pfizer and Moderna] is completely free from any connection to morally compromised cell lines, in this case the connection is very remote from the initial evil of the abortion.”
The statement continues, however, in line with the CDF, that the gravity of the current COVID-19 pandemic, and the lack of options are adequate “…reasons to accept the new COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.”
Moral responsibility to others
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales also affirmed this justification saying it is “not a sin” to receive the vaccine, but also adding the precept that it participates in the moral responsibility individuals have in the well-being of others.
In COVID-19 and Vaccination, the Bishops state: “Catholic teaching protects the good of every life and the health of all and teaches that one must not do harm to another. A vaccine will seek to protect the whole of society from this virulent virus. Individuals should welcome the vaccine not only for the sake of their own health but also out of solidarity with others, especially the most vulnerable.”
Pope Francis, who has been vaccinated against COVID-19, has emphasised this act of solidarity as well. He referred to the vaccination as “an ethical action, because you are gambling with your health, you are gambling with your life, but you are also gambling with the lives of others” (‘Pope Francis and the Pope emeritus receive Covid-19 vaccine’, Vatican News).
New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference President, Cardinal John Dew, asked New Zealanders to reject the false information being circulated about the vaccine and cited the efficacy of vaccines in wiping out diseases such as small pox, which saved “countless lives”. He used the specific case of an outbreak of measles in the country 2019-2020, where because 20 per cent of the population had not been vaccinated, “the disease was carried from Auckland to Samoa where more than 80 people died, most of them babies and children”.
Archbishop of Port of Spain Jason Gordon, during CatholicTT’s Ask the Archbishop live on Instagram, December 20, reiterated the messaging of the CDF in response to a question on Christians treating with the vaccine:”….If there are no vaccines that are ‘clean’ [without the use of cell lines from aborted foetuses] then for the sake of the common good, you might have to use a vaccine that is not ‘clean’.” Stating however, that there is, at this point, no knowledge of the “long tail of the vaccine”, that is, long-term effects, ultimately the health professional have to be trusted. He expressed confidence having examined the process of the creation of the vaccine, “I would take it,” he said.