Quo Primum
Licitness of vaccines derived from fetal cell lines

There is no doubt that it is illicit to prepare, promote, or market vaccines fabricated by the use of cell cultures from aborted babies, since such deliberate use of abortion by-products is a formal cooperation in the abortion. However, the present question is much more delicate. It is whether or not it is permissible to use such vaccines …More
Licitness of vaccines derived from fetal cell lines

There is no doubt that it is illicit to prepare, promote, or market vaccines fabricated by the use of cell cultures from aborted babies, since such deliberate use of abortion by-products is a formal cooperation in the abortion. However, the present question is much more delicate. It is whether or not it is permissible to use such vaccines produced and marketed by someone else. If there are alternatives, we manifestly must protest the killing of the innocent by using the alternatives. However, what if they are the only ones that are readily available, as in the case of rubella? Can the principles of double effect be applied? Here are the principles: when only a good effect is directly willed, and a bad effect is simply permitted, but not directly willed in itself, it is permissible, so long as the good effect does not come from the bad effect, and so long as there is a proportionate reason to tolerate the bad effect. In such an instance, it is possible to permit an evil, not directly willed in itself, and this is called the indirect voluntary.

The good effect in this case is the immunization against the infectious disease. The bad effect is the abortion, the killing of the innocent. Here one could argue that the person who seeks the vaccination does not will the abortion, but simply uses the cells that are obtained as a by-product or indirect consequence of it. After all, the abortion was not performed in order to produce fetal cells to produce a vaccine, but for entirely different reasons. However, although the abortion is only indirectly voluntary, nevertheless the Catholic sense tells the faithful that they ought never to use the by-products of abortions for any reason at all, for by so doing they promote the mass murder of the innocent which is destroying modern society and all sense of morality. There must always be a proportionate reason to use the indirect voluntary, that is to permit something evil which is not directly willed. Here the reasonable gain obtained by the use of the double effect is not in any way proportionate to the horrible evil of abortion and the scandal of using them is immense.

If a person is not aware of the fact that fetal cells are being used in the culture of the vaccines that he or she is giving to his children, then clearly there is no moral fault involved. However, if he is aware of this, then he is morally obliged to refuse such vaccinations on principle, until such time as they can be obtained from cultures which are morally licit. Moreover, it is not permissible to remain in wilful ignorance on such a question. If there is a positive reason to suspect that fetal cells are indeed involved in the production of the vaccine, then a person is morally obliged to clarify the matter, and find out if this is indeed true or not.

Fr. Peter Scott