Using Abortion-Derived Vaccines: A Moral Analysis

by Ezra Sullivan, O.P.

Introduction: Object of this study

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” said Jesus Christ (Jn 10:10), who offers eternal life through union with him by divine grace.[1] In the words of John Paul II, this is the “Gospel of Life” which proclaims the inherent dignity of each human life “from its very beginning to its end”—a dignity that every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can recognize. All are called to “affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree,” for, the Pope explained, “Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.”[2] In the past year (2020-2021), the biological and spiritual life of nearly the entire world has been negatively affected by the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus, whether directly or indirectly, sometimes in devastating ways.

Media provided daily updates about infection rates and death-counts, about rising debt levels, about government-mandated measures including incarceration of citizens within their homes and, more recently, the diffusion of vaccines for a majority of citizens. These vaccines are a source of hope for many. Camus, in his psychologically-astute novel, The Plague (1947), describes how citizens shut up for months by an epidemic longed to leave the confines of their municipality. For a time, guards would gun down anyone who tried to escape. But when the plague had run its course and claimed numerous lives, the gates of the town finally opened and the people jubilantly rejoined long-separated loved ones. In our day, many see the whole world like Camus’s disease-stricken town and many hope that safe vaccines will open the gates of their lockdown and provide a passport to a healthier world. Tens of millions have already received vaccines for COVID-19, and hundreds of millions, if not billions, are slated to do so.

Vaccine use has provoked controversy however. For years, some vaccines have been designed, developed and produced using cells derived from aborted fetuses. Many vaccines for COVID-19 have followed suit. Large numbers of Catholics and other people of good will are in a state of perplexed conscience, not knowing what course of action is morally acceptable. Even worse, they are not receiving unanimous guidance, because some authorities have strongly declared themselves in favor of the vaccines whereas other authorities are strongly against them. Nearly the entire world is being drawn into a moral relation to the vaccines: deliberately taking or rejecting them is a moral decision. It is therefore appropriate to consider these issues in an orderly and sober manner, so that neither bodies nor souls may be harmed in this situation. For the sake of thoroughness and clarity, we address some issues found in treatises of moral theology, for many of the treatises disagree with each other, or present only partial treatments of relevant material, or include errors.

[1] Thomas Aquinas, Super Evangelium S. Ioannis lectura, (Rome: Marietti, 1952), c. 10, I.3, no. 1396.

[2] John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae: On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life, (1995): §1.