In the Service of Human Life
Tree on a hill on a starry night
Applied Bioethics in stylized text
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In the Service of Human Life

Ethical Vaccines

Test tubes in a labratory

Vaccines are highly regulated, carefully manufactured, peer and government reviewed, clinically tested formulations intended to prevent the spread of dangerous communicable diseases. They are composed of chemical and organic matter which, in concert, can reasonably prevent a patient from becoming ill or dying from a particular illness. After a vaccine is approved, it is continually monitored and studied to ensure safety.

There are a number of vaccines today that have been derived from aborted fetal cell lines. As of November 2015, there are 21 vaccines available in the United States and Canada that have aborted fetal cell lines as their source. Ethically conscious parents who object to abortion should have grave concern over this reality.

It’s important to understand how the derivation of these modern vaccines presents an ethical dilemma. The original versions of many of the vaccines that we use today were developed using tissues from two aborted fetuses, whose remains were donated to scientific research. Researchers developed vaccines using their organic matter, and that formula has been replicated through the years. The original fetal tissue is no longer in use as those cells have long ceased living. Instead, derivative cells from the original tissue have been grown, from which the vaccines continue to be produced.

Think of it like an oak tree. The large, shady oak tree in your front yard does not gain any of its growth from the single acorn that began its life. Subsequent cells and organic matter have grown, reproduced, and died, in a cycle many times over throughout the years. The result is the tree that stands before you.

The ethical problem is that we have gained a net benefit from a categorically unethical research method. A child was aborted (ethical wrong), and because of that child’s death we have a vaccine that saves lives (ethical good). It would be the same quandary if a cure for cancer emerged from inhumane medical research on political prisoners in a gulag. Should another person be forced into involuntary experimentation and death so that others may live? No.

Thankfully, biomedical technology has advanced to allow us to use non-human organic material to develop vaccines. Ethical vaccines have been developed from an egg, yeast, monkey, or even tobacco. In fact, of the 21 major vaccines available in the United States, only five are solely derived from aborted cell lines. In other words, they have no ethical version available. In a few of those five cases, there are ethical alternatives available globally, only they haven’t been approved for use in the United States.

Whenever possible, parents and patients should request that an ethical vaccine be used in the course of their healthcare, rather than one developed from an aborted cell line. In the few instances where an ethical version is not available, patients and providers should request that research dollars be directed to producing them.