COVID Vaccine and Pro-Life Ethics

Friends, a comment came up this weekend about the ethics of taking the COVID vaccine, as it relates with the potential use of DNA from aborted fetus’. I drafted this message and someone asked me if it could be sent on, so I touched it up a bit and posted it here.

If you don’t already know, a number of vaccines are developed by using DNA lines from aborted fetuses from the 1970’s and 80’s. This creates a moral issue for many pro-life Christians who may want a vaccine but believe that this would be unethical as it is benefitting from harvesting the cells by killing a human being. What is written below deals only with the three current vaccine options that I know about.

It does not deal with the bigger ethical issue as to whether a Christian would ever use a vaccination developed from the cells of an aborted baby. I’m not advocating either way at this point, but I am also not writing about it in this short piece.

As a church we have been careful in how to pray about a vaccine since the COVID pandemic started, praying more for “prevention” and “treatment” measures than a vaccine – as many are concerned for ethical issues surrounding a vaccine. Some don’t like vaccines at all. Others are concerned about the use of fetal tissue. I’m guessing we will pray about the vaccine a little bit more now that there are clear options and I know more.

In light of that, I wanted to share some of my initial observations on the ethics of the vaccine (again, only from the pro-life issue of aborted fetuses).

The first two top candidates for the vaccine were not developed by fetal tissue. They may have been tested against fetal tissue (I am not sure exactly what that entails). Numerous Christian ethicists have deemed this as ethical. I will post a few quotes below, even if they are not Reformed or Presbyterian, they represent some good Christian thought on this issue. This may comfort people with this concern.

As the first two vaccines under consideration were not developed from any aborted fetus DNA, I don’t think a Biblical case could be made for not receiving one of these vaccines or even celebrating its development. I don’t think it would be contrary to our Confession either, with regard to the 6th commandments prohibition against unjust killing and our conviction of the sanctity of human life.

In fact, it may be advantageous, from a this pro-life perspective, to celebrate that the version with a 94.9%+ success rate was made without aborted fetus (Moderna and Pfizer as well), while the one that came out Monday (11/23) (Astrazeneka) was developed using aborted fetus. A pro-life argument could essentially say: We don’t need an aborted fetus for good medicine. Plus the Moderna seems to be more effective (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/23/oxford-astrazeneca-covid-vaccine-has-some-advantages-over-its-peers.html)

I looked around and this is what I found about the Moderna/Pfizer vaccinations:

  • Charlotte Lozier Institute (pro-life) – has a helpful chart to see where aborted fetus cells are used – https://s27589.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/COVID-19-Vaccine-Candidates-and-Abortion-Derived-Cell-Lines.pdf.As I mentioned earlier, apparently the current trials of Moderna and Pfizer may have been tested against DNA lines from aborted babies. I don’t know what that testing entails, but it shows that fetus tissue was not used for development or production. As far as I can tell (from some of the articles below), this is an unfortunate and poor decision, but there was no material advantage gained by using these aborted lines. In other words, nothing was gained by using the aborted fetus’ that would not have been utilized in any other testing method. Still, the vaccine was not developed from aborted fetus DNA lines. This will satisfy most pro-life people.
  • National Review (Conservative): https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/abortion-and-the-covid-vaccines/ – “The connection between that possible abortion and the vaccines is attenuated. No one who takes them to protect himself and his community from COVID need worry that he is either causing an abortion, encouraging abortion in the future, or conferring approval of it.”
  • Christianity Today: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/october/trump-covid-fetal-cell-lines-regeneron-vaccines-pro-life.html – “The Charlotte Lozier Institute, affiliated with the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, deemed it an “ethical treatment” because of the composition of the drug. The institute has not advocated against the use of animal stem cells. As far as the testing, “there are ethically derived cell lines that could be used instead,” said David Prentice, the institute’s vice president and research director. “It’s disappointing that they chose to do the tests with the old fetal cell line.” But Lozier, like other religious groups that oppose abortion, sees a distinction between testing a treatment using the old cell lines and using abortions to obtain further fetal tissue for research.”
  • Life News https://www.lifenews.com/2020/11/09/new-pfizer-coronavirus-vaccine-not-created-with-fetal-cells-from-babies-killed-in-abortions/: “So, I checked. Pfizer’s vaccine was developed using genetic sequencing on computers without using fetal cells. As a consequence, the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute listed the vaccine as “ethically uncontroversial.””
  • National Catholic Register – https://www.ncregister.com/news/will-ethical-covid-vaccines-arrive-at-warp-speed – “These moral issues apply to a lesser degree with some of the other vaccines as well. Moderna’s vaccine, for instance, is not produced from HEK-293 cells, but it has benefited from existing non-Moderna research on the Spike protein that used HEK-293 cells, and non-Moderna scientists have used these cells (in addition to ethically sourced cells) to test the vaccine. […] Despite these issues, Prentice said because all four of these vaccines are not directly produced from cell lines derived from aborted fetal tissue, people could take advantage of them with a clear conscience. And all four have been tested on ethically-derived cells as well.”

As I said, a few people suggested I make this available, and I figured I had done the work, so I might as well. If you have any questions or comments, I am sure you will let me know, and I welcome it.

There are certainly other objections to the vaccination and I’m not going to deal with them now, or maybe ever. People have always been uncomfortable with vaccinations. So much, in fact, that the great pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards took a smallpox vaccination to help encourage others to take the vaccination for the public good. Ironically, he died shortly after taking it, which I doubt settled the public comfort of the vaccine!

Regardless, my personal opinion is that I am happy to receive the vaccine as soon as I can. I imagine it will be compulsory for military, college students, people who want to fly or ride the train, and maybe other social settings. So I expect most of us are just going to have to get used to it, like wearing a mask to buy groceries.

Pastorally, I know that a number of people will object for a number of reasons. I believe that whatever is not done by faith is sin (Rom 14:23), and people should not take something they believe to be wrong or immoral. If people have incorrect theological beliefs that compel a decision one way or another, I hope we can help people address those. If there are loving reasons to take it, I hope we can encourage it. But I don’t believe I have a place to compel anyone into receiving one.

I spoke with a doctor and a brother of a doctor on Sunday. Their level of excitement was contagious. On Monday, while canvassing the neighborhoods for Thanksgiving meals, we encountered scores of disadvantaged, immigrant children in poor neighborhoods and not at school. This is a social tragedy. My mom is in lockdown in her retirement/assisted living community and is lonely, just doors away from other lonely people, but unable to visit. The vaccine could bring us closer to normal by spring or summer.

For these reasons and more, I give thanks to God for the vaccine and to pray for a safe and effective distribution strategy that helps all of our people, and especially the most vulnerable, return to normal life.

I pray furthermore that we would all see the brevity and the fragility of life and that more people would find solace and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanks for your time reading this. This is my opinion only and I haven’t vetted this through my elders or anything.

Faithfully Yours,
Pastor Sean