Monday, October 26, 2009

Vaccines, Aborted Babies, and Catholic Bioethics

It would be nice to live in a period when 'medical ethics' didn't seem like an oxymoron. If you've heard that some (not all) vaccines are made from parts taken from aborted babies, you heard right.

Disgusting? I think so: but then I'm one of those people who thinks that killing babies isn't nice, and that we shouldn't do it.

There's a pretty good FAQ page on the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) website: Misapplied apostrophe in the title notwithstanding, this is a pretty good look at Catholic beliefs as applied to the existence of vaccines made from aborted babies. I was unaware of the National Catholic Bioethics Center until this week, when rajouimet, on Twitter, posted a link to this FAQ page.

Two points:
  • There does not appear to be any connection between H1N1 flu vaccine and the aborted-babies vaccines discussed in the FAQ
  • There some types of vaccines for which there is no alternative to the abortion-linked vaccines
    • No doubt there should be
    • But there isn't
This does not mean that Catholics have to refuse vaccinations. From that FAQ page:
"...Are there any vaccines for which there are no alternatives?

"Unfortunately, at present there are no alternative vaccines available in the United States against rubella (German measles), varicella (chickenpox), and hepatitis A. All of these are grown in the cell lines WI-38 and/or MRC-5. (See note #7 of the statement of the Pontifical Academy for Life for a listing of vaccines and their source).

"What do I do if there is no alternative to a vaccine produced from these cell lines?

"One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion. The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them...."
(NCBC)
Farther down, the FAQ page outlines how you can make your objections known to the vaccine's manufacturer.

As I see it, the bottom line is that Catholics aren't required to be so heavenly-minded that we're no earthly good. Making vaccines from aborted babies is wrong, and makes me cringe, just thinking about it. But - and this is important - as a Catholic I'm obligated to be a responsible member of my culture. I've discussed this before, in connection with voting. (November 1, 2008)

In terms of public health, right now there simply are no vaccines available for a number of serious diseases - that don't have loathsome roots. As an American citizen, I have a choice:
  • Refuse inoculations for these diseases
    • Tell myself what a fine, pure person I am
    • Risk infecting my
      • Family
      • Community
  • Get inoculated
    • Pray that Western civilization will change its mind about killing
      • Babies
      • Other inconvenient people
    • Find out what companies make these vaccines
      • Let them know that I don't approve of using cells from aborted babies
      • Again, pray
Is this a perfect solution? Offhand, I'd say 'no.' But I've gotten used to living in an imperfect world.

About the National Catholic Bioethics Center

I did a little checking around, and the NCBC appears to be what it claims to be: a Catholic organization dedicated to "...to promote and safeguard the dignity of the human person in health care and the life sciences...." (NCBC About page) And, I've found that several people have served both the NCBC and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Looks like the NCBC is legit.
Again, a tip of the hat to rajouimet, on Twitter, for the heads-up on that FAQ.

2 comments:

Mark Bradford, Exec VP said...

Thanks for the tip about the apostrophe. We'll correct it. I can assure you that the NCBC is indeed "legit". We're pleased to have the trust of bishops and clergy world-wide, including offices of the Vatican. Our purpose is to faithfully apply the Church's moral tradition to issues in health care and the life sciences. We also have a 24/7 emergency consultation service for those facing difficult ethical decisions related to their health care, or the care of friends and loved ones. Spread the word.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

Mark Bradford, Exec VP,

Thank you for the personal attention. I realize how that "legit" remark of mine can sound - but I've run into too many 'Catholics for [abortion, whatever] organizations to neglect due diligence with a new-to-me organization.

It's a relief to have specialized resources like you provide. Thanks.

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