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Macau: What Vaccine May I Choose To Be Inoculated With?

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Regarding global vaccination against Covid-19, the key question in many circles today is this: What vaccines are not only scientifically effective and safe but also ethically good? The question was addressed to and answered in general by the Vatican Congregating for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in a “Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines” (December 21, 2020). Latest Vatican text on the matter: Vaccine for all (Vatican Covid-19 Commission in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Life, December 29, 2020).

A previous text from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith had already given the basic answer: the use of biological material of illicit origin is generally illicit, because it implies lack of respect for human life and some kind of cooperation with evil. However, biological material may be used exceptionally when a grave reason justifies its use. An example: in the case of danger to the health of children, their parents may allow the use a vaccine which was developed from cell lines of illicit origin (CDF, Instruction Dignitas Personae [2008], 35). 

What kind of cooperation in evil is given by those who receive an anti-Covid 19 vaccine that uses cell lines from a freely aborted fetus? Certainly, there is no formal or immediate material cooperation, nor mediate proximate material cooperation: those who receive the vaccine did not contribute directly or indirectly to the unethical production of the vaccine. It can be said that there may be some kind of material mediate cooperation, which is passive and remote. The Note explains: “The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of the virus that causes the Covid-19” (CDF, Note 3). The use of these vaccines does not imply “moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses” (Ibid. 4). CDF adds: “Both pharmaceutical companies and government health agencies are therefore encouraged to produce, approve, distribute and offer ethically acceptable vaccines that do not create problems of conscience for either health care providers or the people to be vaccinated.” It is important to underline that the cooperation in evil is passive and remote, and that the benefits from receiving the vaccine are great.

Considering the situation of emergency, the continuing global spreading of Covid-19 and its variants, let us be vaccinated – a free personal and responsible decision - with the vaccine offered to us. As a Note from the Pontifical Academy for Life states, “All clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion.” While we continue proclaiming our commitment in favor of vaccines not connected with procured abortion, “the moral responsibility to vaccinate is reiterated in order to avoid serious health risks for children and the general population.” In the exceptional situation created by the pandemic, “the criteria that would make ethically illicit the decision to vaccinate are not binding” (Vaccine for all, 13).

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith respects the conscience of those persons who cannot accept (conscientious objection) vaccines with morally illicit origin. However, the Congregation’s Note adds wisely: those who in conscience will not be vaccinated with these vaccines must do “their utmost” not to become vehicles of Covid-19 (cf. Note 5). In Vaccine for all (no. 13) we read: “The refusal of the vaccine may also constitute a risk to others.”

In the future, and when the current exceptional situation is basically overcome, many of us might perhaps have the opportunity to make the appropriate choice of an available ethically “clean” vaccine. In its Note, CDF gives examples of “non-availability”: [1] “where vaccines without ethical problems are not made available to physicians and patients, or [2] where their distribution is more difficult due to special storage and transport conditions, or [3] when various types of vaccines are distributed in the same country but health authorities do not allow citizens to choose the vaccine with which to be inoculated.” (Good news: in Macau, the government allows us to choose one vaccine of the four currently available)

It would be ideal, of course, to use the vaccines that are not connected at all with procured abortion. If I had a choice, I would choose the vaccine or one of the vaccines without unethical sourcing. Which ones? Diverse - and confusing – answers are currently given. According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the majority of the vaccines approved or in the process of approval do not use in their research and production cell lines from two freely aborted fetuses, although some vaccines do use them (cf. Observatorio de Bioética UCV, January 18, 2021). Hopefully, the Pontifical Academy for Life will guide us on the delicate matter and answer the concrete pending question some of our brothers and sisters keep asking: What vaccines are scientifically effective and safe and also ethically good?  

It is important to underline always that, although we are invited to accept in this emergency situation the vaccine provided to us, we proclaim that we are absolutely against abortion, and also against the use of aborted fetuses or organs or tissues for commercial use (cosmetics, some foods, etc.), and also against the use of cell lines from voluntarily aborted fetuses for research on and production of vaccines.  Why? Because we are for life from the moment of conception to natural death; because we are for the rights of all to life and health; because we are for the fundamental social values of human dignity and equal rights, the common good, freedom, justice, solidarity and fraternity.

As Christians we firmly believe in the power of prayer. We continue praying to the good Lord to help us all win together the battle against Covid-19.  With God’s grace and love, through Jesus and in the Spirit, we try hard to be – with many good people - socially and ethically responsible, that is, just, fraternal and compassionate.

By Fr. Fausto Gómez, OP