While fetal tissue harvesting and research are widely discussed, a more insidious moral dilemma remains unmentioned: the use of fetal tissue obtained from abortion and used to generate vaccines. Is it morally licit to use such vaccines? This issue demonstrates the moral situation is at its most extreme. The child whose tissues have been harvested has been dead several decades. Unlike front-page experiments in the macabre, the medical treatments being derived from these tissues are neither speculative nor rank failures - the vaccines work. Lives will be preserved and not just yours. The lives preserved are even more precious to you than your own - they are the lives of your children. We have only to accept the terms.
The arguments surrounding such vaccines are thus the acid test of the right-to-life movement. The problems involved have led astray even well-catechized, well-meaning Catholics. Within the last five years, two different groups of Catholic ethicists have found the use of these vaccines to be moral, largely through subtly flawed analogies. Note carefully: the ethical problems discussed here only arise with a class of vaccines generated for use against certain viral diseases. Vaccines generated against bacterial disease do not have the same ethical problems. In order to understand why this is so, we need to re-visit our high school biology.
The problem: viruses need good cells to hijack. The cells must provide excellent machinery for virus production, and be easy for the virus to invade. Two human cell lines used to produce cell cultures, WI-38 and MRC-5, have problematic origins. WI-38 is normal lung tissue taken from a three-month old female child aborted in Philadelphia in 1961. MRC-5 is normal lung tissue taken from a 14-week old male child aborted because a Swedish couple wanted no more children. Both cell lines support a broad range of rhinoviruses. Both are "immortal," which means they reproduce rapidly and self-consistently enough to remain essentially similar to the tissue taken from two dying bodies over thirty years ago.
Both lines of reasoning are founded on the nature of the seminal event: since the cell lines are immortal, no further abortions are needed in order to generate more cells. Thus, the evil act which procured the tissues is complete and sufficiently remote from the present use of the tissues that whoever uses the vaccine today is not morally complicit in the original abortion. That is, using the vaccine won't prevent the historical abortion, vaccine generation doesn't require more abortions today or in the future, so there is no attachment to the sin of abortion.
Two analogies are used to support this argument. The first rests on the use of data from Nazi death-camp experiences. German doctors froze prisoners to death in tanks of ice water in order to learn how to treat hypothermia. Though they failed to find a treatment, their data was eventually captured by Allied troops. Allied doctors developed information based on that data which is used today in the treatment of hypothermia. Since this use of illicitly collected data was moral, it is also acceptable to use illicitly collected fetal tissue.
Unfortunately, the comparison fails. First, the use of data is substantially different from the use of tissue. Second, no one argues that present hypothermia treatments show Nazism and Nazi experiments were not really evil, nor is anyone arguing that the current use of the Nazi data justifies undertaking similar experiments today. However, fetal tissue research, transplants, and products are quite often used to justify abortion. Third, the profits and data obtained from that research allows society to assume the method of obtaining fetal tissue is, if not completely moral, at least not particularly relevant.
Thus, the Nazi murderers reap neither monetary benefits from their evil nor an enhanced reputation from the use of the hypothermia data, and, most important, they gain no emulators on the basis of their work. However, the abortion industry is reaping both monetary benefits and an enhanced reputation from the use of this tissue, and they have gained quite a few emulators. Furthermore, the abortion industry and society uses contraception and abortion to structure a eugenic biomedical agenda essentially similar to that of the original Nazi regime. The unwanted members of society, whether they be children in the womb, the poor unable to afford medical care, or the aged, useless in a consuming, producing society, are being systematically killed or pressured into suicide. Ironically, Nazi ideology is reaping the benefits of an enhanced reputation through the use of fetal tissue for biomedical purposes.
The second analogy compares the use of fetal tissue to that of a murdered organ donor. It is morally acceptable to use an organ harvested from someone who has been murdered. Since the manner of death is not relevant to the ability to donate organs, tissue harvesting is called morally acceptable.
However, organ donation is a freely willed act. Organs can be harvested from an individual only if and as the individual stipulates. Thus, the donor may give permission only to remove her corneas, she may permit organ harvesting only if she dies naturally, or she may forbid harvesting entirely. The patient's pre-established will rules how her organs will be handled, not the manner of death. Her will must be positively established, or no donation can take place at all. Clearly, the child's will in regard to her tissues cannot be established. While a parent has the right to decide how to dispose of her dead child's organs, this right presupposes the parent has not brought about the child's death.
Neither analysis considers a more closely-related example: enforced cannibalism. The use of tissue to generate vaccines which may save other's lives is a kind of cannibalism. On October 13, 1972, a plane with 40 people aboard, all Catholic, crashed in the Andes. Due to the total lack of food in the snowy wasteland, the survivors of the crash were forced to eat the bodies of those who had died in order to maintain their own life. The Church ruled the cannibalism to be acceptable in this instance, because the bodies of the slain were treated with great reverence and the need for sustenance was life-threatening. While it is true that most of those whose bodies were eaten had not given their consent, it is also true that none were murdered; their deaths were unforeseen and unpreventable. By removing the issue of will, this example better corresponds to the abortion event, while simultaneously highlighting the moral problem: the manner of death and the reverence due the human body in death must be considered.
Another argument asserts the separation of the cells from the living being to which they once belonged gives the tissue a different, independent life. While technically true, it doesn't address how the tissue came to have this status. In May 1973, at a combined meeting of the American Pediatric Society and the Society for Pediatric Research held in San Francisco, California, Dr. Peter Adam and associates described their experiment on fetal brain metabolism. The putative scientists aborted babies between 12 and 21 weeks gestation and cut their heads off. The heads were kept alive in a nutrient solution in order to study the brain tissues' uptake of nutrients. Using the above argument, the living brains in the severed heads could morally be used to generate the viruses necessary for vaccine production because those brains have a life which is now different from and independent of their origin, the living child. Though this example merely substitutes brain tissue for lung tissue and skulls for test-tubes, few could look the living skull in the eye and call the products derived from the living brain within morally licit for use.
It has been argued the pharmaceutical researchers bear no culpability: the tissue for the cell line could, in principle, have come from a natural miscarriage. This is a variation of the cannibalism argument; just as the Andes plane crash survivors were forced by circumstances to eat their dead companions, so the researchers were forced by circumstances to use aborted fetal tissue to generate a vaccine. Yet, while chicken pox/rubella can be deadly diseases under the right circumstances, the two situations hardly seem equivalent. Even if we grant such an equivalence, are the researchers innocent bystanders? They could make such an argument. In 1992, the National Institutes of Health successfully lobbied President Clinton to repeal the federal funding ban on the use of tissue from surgical abortion precisely because miscarriages were not providing enough suitable tissue for continued research. Researchers, pointing to this, could claim it proves surgically aborted children were their only real source of tissue. Sadly, this means the pharmaceutical researchers depended on an intrinsically evil act, making the vaccine morally illicit.
Cell-line researchers collude with abortionists in order to get tissue. Researchers require living tissue, as fresh as possible; dead and dying tissue is useless. Getting living fetal tissue requires extraordinarily close cooperation between the researcher and the abortionist. In fact, the researcher is often at the foot of the table while the abortion is being performed, immediately dissecting the child. Typically, published scientific papers on fetal tissue research list the abortionist who supplies the fetal tissues as a co-author; without the close cooperation of the abortionist, the paper wouldn't have been possible.
Thus, little independence exists between the cell-line researcher and the abortionist. Even if the aborted tissues were simply shipped to the lab by the abortionist, money and/or a positive social acceptance of abortion will be given in exchange for the tissues. The abortionist will not be dissuaded from his evil act, he will be encouraged to continue it; indeed, the abortionist intends the act of supplying tissue to spread social acceptance of abortion. Similarly, we encourage researchers to support abortionists when we support work based on aborted fetal tissue. The Nazi data could be used precisely because there was no danger of such material cooperation; insofar as the possibility of such cooperation exists, the use of the Nazi data is proscribed.
"Immediate material cooperation" is complicity in an action which one does not formally approve, but in which one is so closely involved that one shares its evil. The cell-line researchers were almost certainly immediate material cooperators. Pharmaceutical researchers made no effort to avoid the morally problematic cell line, and thereby spread the effect of the abortionists' evil intent. While using the vaccine is not identical to attending the abortion, using products derived from the living tissues of a murdered child is uncomfortably close to immediate material cooperation with the vaccine generators.
It is irrelevant that the abortion is a one-time long-since completed event. A rape-murder committed in 1961 is also a one-time long-since completed event, but it is still immoral to buy the film of the event for one's own enjoyment. Buying goods produced by apartheid or slave labor is not moral even if the crime which produced the item is a completed action, with the slaves now dead. Using the product encourages slavers. Using the vaccine encourages the abortion industry.
Even if chicken-pox or rubella were uniformly deadly diseases, the danger posed to the public health by refusing this vaccine is irrelevant. If a serial killer auctioned off his victims' property we must refuse to buy that property, regardless of the danger to the public economy. In the same way, we cannot be complicit in serial killing practiced by scientists. A murderer cannot be allowed to justify the act of murder by donating his victim's organs. He does not gain rights over the body of his quarry simply by virtue of having swung the killing blow. Neither does a society complicit in abortion have a right to apportion the victim's body in ways which benefit itself, while muttering, "Well, she's dead now, and we can't let the body go to waste." Drug companies use these cell lines because the cell lines make money. The cell lines will only be discarded when market pressures demonstrate they do not make money.
Assume someone learns the inheritance on which he lives was given to him on the basis of a false will, designed to deprive the rightful heirs of their money. The person who has benefited from the injustice must attempt to rectify the situation. Likewise, Merck and Co. has a duty publicly to renounce the abortion and all profits accruing therefrom. The problem of scandal derives precisely from the fact that it encourages others to sin or to continue in their sin. We cannot avoid participating in scandal if we provide no incentive for the sinners to change. Public use of the vaccines will not cause Merck and Co. or the abortionists to change their behaviour. In fact, derived profits encourages their continued fetal tissue efforts in other avenues of research. They experience no downside. Is not this very fact scandalous?
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