In this episode, Trent breaks down a recent statement from the USCCB on the ethics of using Covid-19 vaccines given their connections to past abortion-related research.
Welcome to The Council of Trent podcast, a production of Catholic Answers.
What about the controversies related to the COVID-19 vaccines and the program used to create them, Operation Warp Speed. Namely, why is that to be called Operation Warp Speed? That’s kind of exclusionary to Star Wars fans. Why can’t it be called Operation Hyperdrive?
But no, in all seriousness, there is controversy related to these vaccines and their connection to medical experiments that were done in the past on aborted fetuses and embryos. And so the USCCB has actually weighed in on this in a statement entitled, Moral Considerations Regarding the New COVID-19 Vaccines. As we’re going to talk about that today here on the podcast.
So welcome to The Council of Trent podcast. I’m your host, Catholic Answers apologist, and speaker Trent Horn. We actually addressed this issue a little bit a few weeks ago in a podcast I did with Fr. Matthew Schneider. I’ll link to that podcast and other resources I mentioned at trenthornpodcast.com.
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Okay. So what I want to do today is I’m going to read through excerpts of the statement the USCCB put out. I would encourage you to read the entire statement. It’s not very long. It’s about seven pages, double spaced. And it’s well worthwhile to read, to get all of the moral principles and factual principles in one place in order to make an informed decision on this issue.
So it begins by quoting Pope St. John Paul II on respect for human life. And then the statement says that, “The church does not now and has never accepted abortion.” And it quotes the catechism saying, “Christian tradition is clear and unanimous from the beginning up to our own day in describing abortion as a particularly grave moral disorder. It is because of this respect for the human person, that the USCCB in collaboration with other organizations working to protect human life, has been engaged in a campaign advocating for the development of a vaccine for COVID-19 that has no link to abortion.”
Now, I think that’s good. That’s what we should be doing. But the statement later goes on to say that in spite of this campaign, when you look at the front runners for the vaccines, namely Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca… I’ve been online at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, it’s a great pro-life research Institute that lists I think like 20 or 25 different COVID-19 vaccines that are in development.
But the vast majority of them are never going to hit the market. It’s kind of a race to see who can get there first. And the ones that have gotten there first and will be mass-produced has some connection to abortions in the past. Some are more connected than others as the statement points out.
So it goes on to say, “While some pharmaceutical companies have been working on a vaccine for COVID-19 without using morally compromised cell lines at all,” and there’s a fair number you can see at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. “Others have been using such cell lines in either the design and development phase or the production phase or in both.”
So in some cases these cell lines, they’re not actual cells of aborted fetuses… But think about when you take a photocopy machine, you take out a page from a book, you have the page from a book and you put it in a photocopier and then a copy comes out. And then you can take that copy and make more and more copies in the photocopy machine. And you can keep making copies and you don’t need the original page of the book to keep copying this thing.
Or a better example might be an electronic file. You could copy an electronic file from a friend and then give that file to another friend. And you never have to go back to the original file. So the vaccines that are created that are connected to the abortions in the past, they do not, none of them have cells from aborted fetuses in them. But the cell lines that have been copied over and over again over the past few decades, do have their origin in an abortion in the past. And so some of these vaccines, they were created using these cell lines, but other vaccines like the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, the vaccine itself is not made from any cell lines.
But… Well here, let me read through what it says here because the statement goes on to say, “Still others,” like Moderna and Pfizer, “have been making use of a morally compromised cell line only for a confirmatory test of the vaccine’s efficacy.” So they’re not used to make the vaccine, they’re used to see whether the vaccine works or not.
“This leads many people who are concerned for the sanctity of human life to ask if it is ethical to accept any of the vaccines that have some connection to abortion.” And so here we get into the issue of cooperation with evil. I covered that in detail with Fr. Matt Schneider. But a brief review, you cannot formerly cooperate with evil. So you can’t cooperate with evil and intend the evil. So if you drive someone to get an abortion, because you want that person to get an abortion, that’s a grave matter. You can’t do that.
But there are many cases where we materially cooperate with evil. We may not intend for the evil, but we provide the means for it to happen or we benefit from the evil itself. In that case, if it’s proximate material cooperation you can’t do it. So if you work in an abortion facility as a nurse and you don’t do the abortion, you don’t like the abortion, but you just want a job and you’re passing the tools to the abortionist, you may not be formally cooperating, but that’s proximate material cooperation. And that would be sinful.
But remote material cooperation would be; you provide some kind of material in a remote way so that it’s involved in the abortion somehow, but it’s so remote or removed, you’re not morally responsible. The example that I would give is the bus driver who drives a bus down the street, and there’s a stop at the abortion clinic and he knows for some people who don’t have cars, they’re going to have to use his bus to go to the abortion facility and get an abortion. So he provides some material means, but it’s so removed. I mean, he could quit his job in moral protests, there’ll be nothing wrong with that, but he wouldn’t be sinning just because he’s driving his bus line down.
Another example would be if you go to a restaurant or a grocery store and you buy something and they take your money and they donate it to Planned Parenthood, that would be remote material cooperation with evil. You don’t intend it and it’s such a small part that’s involved, you’re not morally responsible. You don’t have to go out and go through a list to make sure you buy from stores that don’t donate to elicit causes. I mean, you can do that, but you’re not morally obligated.
And so, could we ever be allowed to use a vaccine that was produced with cell lines that are derived from abortions in the past? Well the church has said this, and I believe it’s in Dignitas Personae and in statements from the Pontifical Academy for Life? There are some vaccines that there are no alternatives to the vaccines and they’re produced with cell lines from abortions that occur in the past.
And so the USCCB statement gives an example of that in the form of Rubella. I’m going to read at length the example. “A specific example where the reasons for accepting vaccination are sufficiently serious to justify it, even though the vaccine has been developed with the help of cell lines derived from aborted fetal cells, is the case of Rubella or German Measles. The most important danger posed by spread of Rubella is that of Congenital Rubella Syndrome, which affects unborn children when their mothers become infected while pregnant. Congenital Rubella Syndrome can cause miscarriages and a wide range of severe birth defects. The only available vaccine, however, has been developed with the help of aborted fetal cell lines.
“In such a situation, parents are justified in having their children vaccinated against Rubella, not only to avoid the effects of Rubella on their children, but secondarily and just as importantly, to prevent their children from becoming carriers of Rubella. As the spread of Rubella can lead to the infection of vulnerable pregnant women, thereby endangering their lives and the lives of their unborn children.
“It is important to note that the making of the Rubella vaccine or that of the new COVID-19 vaccines does not involve cells taken directly from the body of an aborted child. Cells taken from two abortions in the 1960s were replicated in a laboratory to produce two cell lines that can be reproduced again and again, indefinitely. To make the Rubella vaccine cells from these cell lines are stimulated to produce the chemicals necessary for the vaccine. It is not as if the making of the vaccine required ever more cells from ever more abortions.”
And so that’s the key when we’re cooperating with evil. We have this vaccine, it’s the only vaccine that can treat a dangerous and contagious disease like German Measles, there’s no other alternatives. So what do we do when the vaccine we have has an illicit origin? As I’ll talk about, I have other examples I’ll share with you later here in the podcast. But it can be licit to use medical technology, even outside of the abortion context, that was derived and has illicit origin.
So if the evil is not something that is being repeated… It would be different if they said, “Well, in order to use this vaccine, we have to keep aborting children and harvest.” It’d be like if it was using embryonic STEM cells, if they said that this vaccine only works if we keep aborting children and harvesting their cells to create this vaccine, then it would be unethical. We couldn’t cooperate with something like that.
But the fact that this act of evil occurred in the past and does not have to be replicated today for these vaccines to be produced would make the cooperation with evil remote. And so if there was a severe enough case, if there were serious enough reasons, it could justify using these kinds of vaccines. Whether it’s a vaccine against German Measles or a vaccine against COVID-19.
So the statement goes on then to compare this to COVID-19. It says, “The current COVID-19 pandemic has created a situation with circumstances similar to those posed by Rubella. First, at least at present, there is no available alternative vaccine that has absolutely no connection to abortion.” So there are other vaccines not connected to abortion, but they’re just not widespread. They’re not going to be openly and mass produced. Now the USCCB could urge a boycott saying we only want the ones that have no connection to abortion whatsoever, but it’s probably not going to be successful.
The facts on the ground are this, there are going to be three vaccines that are widely available, Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca. And the question is, “What do we as Catholics do with the vaccines that are going to be produced regardless of how we feel about them?”
“Second, the risk to public health is very serious as evidenced by the millions of infections worldwide and hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States of America alone.” Now I will say, I am skeptical of some reports of the COVID-19 death counts. There have been cases where people have died with COVID-19, but were recorded as deaths from COVID-19. So people who died in car accidents or people who died from suicide and later turned out to be positive for carrying COVID-19 were listed as a COVID-19 death. So I am skeptical a little bit, but on the other hand, there are a large number of people who are dying from this disease.
Some people will say, “Well, it only has a 1% fatality rate for certain demographics.” Well, yeah, but there’s 300 million people in the United States, there’s tens of millions of people in high risk demographics. So even if it’s only 1%, that still ends up being hundreds of thousands of people or millions of people who are at risk.
And so, while I am skeptical of some of the number of deaths that have been tabulated, on the other hand I have heard of more people dying from COVID-19 second hand than I’ve ever heard from the flu before. Now, I actually gave a eulogy at someone’s funeral… How long ago was this? It was about, I’d say about 11 years ago, 11, 12 years ago. I gave a eulogy for a 19 year old girl who died from the flu. So, these things do happen. I have heard of them, but I’ve heard of far more people… I know someone who lost both of her uncles on the same day to COVID-19.
So it is a serious disease, I believe that we can say that. At the very least it is serious for a certain segment of the population, especially since there’s no natural immunity to this new virus whatsoever.
It goes on to say, “Third, in many cases the most important effect of vaccinations,” this is like Rubella, “may not be the protection it offers to the person who receives the vaccination, who may be in relatively robust health and unlikely to be seriously affected by the disease. Rather than more important effect may be the protection it offers to those who are much more likely to be seriously stricken by the disease if they were to contract it through exposure to those infected.”
So the reason we get MMR, especially Rubella or German Measles, is not necessarily to protect oneself. Though, you can have serious complications. I remember my grandmother told me that she got measles as a kid. Some people say, “Oh, measles isn’t a big deal.” And she said, “My brain was on fire from measles and I could never think the same way after that.” You get a really high fever for a long time with measles, it cooks your brain. It can cause deafness. It can cause brain swelling. This says for German Measles it’s very serious for pregnant women.
So you get the vaccine, not necessarily for you, but to not spread it to vulnerable populations. And that’d be the same thing for COVID-19 vaccines because the really vulnerable populations are those with compromised immune systems, people who are over the age of 60 and other people like that.
All right, it goes on to say, “There are currently three vaccines that have been presented to us having demonstrated their effectiveness and that are likely to be made available in the coming months. Those from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. The situation of the first two is essentially the same. Neither Pfizer nor Moderna used morally compromised cell lines in the design, development or production of the vaccine. A confirmatory test, however, employing the commonly used but morally compromised HEK293 cell line was performed on both vaccines.”
So Moderna and Pfizer, they are MRNA vaccines. They don’t use cell lines. They don’t use weakened versions of the virus. As I discussed with Fr. Matt Schneider in a previous episode, they use MRNA to get our own bodies to produce the proteins that are associated with COVID-19 so that we can identify them without needing to be infected with some kind of weakened strain of the virus.
Now, to confirm that it worked, they use another cell line, HEK293. HEK stands for Human Embryonic Kidney, that was taken from an aborted female fetus an aborted unborn female in the Netherlands back in the 1970s. So while the vaccine was not produced with illicit cell lines, to confirm that it worked it did use one of these lines.
So in any case, let’s go back to the statement from the US Bishop. They said, “Thus, while neither vaccine is completely free from any connection to morally compromise cell lines, in this case the connection is very remote from the initial evil of the abortion. In view of the gravity of the current pandemic and the lack of availability of alternative vaccines the reasons to accept the new COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are sufficiently serious to justify their use despite their remote connection to morally compromised cell lines. In addition, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community. In this way, being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good.”
Now some people take in the last part, “Our moral responsibility for the common good,” and taking that to mean that the Bishops are saying every single person has a moral responsibility to get vaccinated against COVID-19. And that’s not what they’re saying. To make an analogy in paragraph 2240 of the Catechism it says, “Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good, make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote and to defend one’s country.”
So notice the Catechism says in paragraph 2240, that we have a responsibility to the common good that makes it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote and to defend one’s country. But that doesn’t mean all of us have to enlist in the military, or that you have to vote in every single election. There could be morally sufficient reasons to justify not voting in particular elections or to not enlist in the military, for example.
And the same is true of vaccines. There could be a sufficient reason to not vaccinate oneself, even though vaccines do a tremendous amount of good and they’re part of a general obligation to promote the common good. I believe vaccines in general are efficacious, they’re safe. They’ve done a tremendous amount of good. They have saved countless lives.
Now some of you listening may not agree with that. You may be opposed to vaccines or at the very least you don’t think vaccines ought to be mandatory or obligatory. And I don’t want to get into that debate here on this episode. My point is just saying that in this statement released from the USCCB, they are not mandating that everyone get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Now on the other hand, some people will say to me, “Yeah, but Trent, why would you say that? Why would you say some people shouldn’t get this vaccine? Why wouldn’t we all get it?” Am I being irresponsible by saying that some people may make an informed decision to not get this vaccine? Not at all. Everybody has to assess the facts for themselves, both to the seriousness of the disease, how communicable it is, and the risks that are involved with the vaccine?
Including the unknown risks. For example, this vaccine hasn’t been tested on pregnant or nursing mothers. So in some countries they’re saying “use with caution” and other countries are saying it’s contraindicated that pregnant women or nursing mothers shouldn’t use it. And now Laura is a nursing mother so I’m going to urge her to not get the vaccine. And I think she agrees with me, she’s not going to get it because it hasn’t been tested on pregnant or nursing women. It hasn’t been tested on children. You can’t give the COVID-19 vaccine to children.
So if you can’t give it to children under the age of 16, I would say that includes nursing infants and unborn children. So I would strongly discourage pregnant women or nursing mothers from taking this vaccine. Now, on the other hand, I’ll get the vaccine. It seems safe to me. I’m not saying everybody has to do that, but I’m going to get it just like I would get the flu vaccine.
Now, some people may say to me, “Yeah, but Trent the odds of you dying from COVID-19 are really low.” Yeah, that’s true. But the odds of me dying from the flu are really low, but it’s a giant headache to get the flu and it’s a giant headache to get COVID-19. Even if you have mild symptoms, it doesn’t actually have to be super severe it can just feel like the flu.
I know people who’ve gotten COVID-19 who are young and in my age demographic. They didn’t get a serious case, but they just said, “Well, what I got felt like a really bad flu.” Well, I’d rather not have a really bad flu. I’d rather not be out of commission for a week. So I’ll get the vaccine if it seems safe to me. I’m not saying everybody else has to do it, but I’m going to get it because it seems safe for me.
But members of other demographics, like pregnant or nursing mothers, people who have a severe allergic reactions and carry EpiPens with them might want to exercise more caution. And since it’s complicated, who should or shouldn’t receive a vaccine, that’s why the Bishops do not give a blanket endorsement saying every single person is morally required to receive this vaccine.
Now, some people may say to me, “Yeah, but Trent, even you shouldn’t get this vaccine because it came through abortions, who cares about remote cooperation with evil? If that abortion had not happened, we wouldn’t have the vaccine today. So you’re still cooperating with an abortion somehow. You’re not being truly pro-life and you shouldn’t get this vaccine. You shouldn’t be doing something that is involved with the evil of abortion.”
And as I said with my interview with Fr. Matt Schneider, we live in an evil world. There are a significant number of medical treatments and technologies and vaccines that were derived from unethical experiments that were done in the past, and not just abortion. And there’s other things that persist to the present day that were derived from evil’s done in the past. So if you have that very rigid view, “I’m not going to use any medical treatment or anything that came from evil done in the past,” then in order to be consistent you’re going to have to reject a lot more than COVID-19 vaccines.
So let me give you three examples. Number one, as I discussed last time with Fr. Matt Schneider, some treatments for hypothermia were discovered or pioneered through Nazi experiments on concentration camp victims. Like, they would put them in ice-cold baths against their will and some of these people died to develop these treatments. And other medical technology and medical atlases and illustrations and biological knowledge came from these grizzly experiments done in the Nazi Holocaust, that are still used today in medical schools.
A second example would be Hepatitis A and B vaccines. These were developed through unethical experiments performed on mentally handicapped children at the Willowbrook institution in Staten Island, New York. So what happened was in the 1950s and ’60s, if you had a child with a severe mental handicap, let’s say a severe case of autism, you couldn’t send them to school. There are very few places that could provide them the care that they needed.
So a lot of people try to get their children into Willowbrook, even though it’s conditions were awful. Robert Kennedy went and visited it in 1965, he said it was worse than the city zoo. But for a lot of people, they still wanted to get their kids there. And it was overcrowded, too. It was supposed to only have about 4000 students, ended up having 6000. So hepatitis was already very prevalent there.
So what happened was from 1955 to 1970, Saul Krugman and Dr. Joan Giles purposely infected students with Hepatitis and they bribed parents to consent to this by getting them into the school. So according to an article in Forbes that says, “Despite it’s well-documented horrors, Willowbrook was still one of the only options for children with severe disabilities. And there was a long wait-list. Dr. Krugman offered several parents the ability to jump the line and have their children put in the newer cleaner research wards with more staff if they joined the Hepatitis experiment. One parent said, I did feel coerced. I felt like I was denied help unless I took this opportunity.”
Think about this, with COVID-19 there was a challenge trial that people proposed… I actually signed up for it, it was called One Day Sooner, but I never heard back… of adults saying, “I will choose to get the vaccine and a test and be purposely infected with COVID-19 to see if it works.” Because in doing so that could shorten… Normally it takes vaccines many months because you give people a vaccine and a placebo, two groups, one vaccine, one placebo, you send them out into the general population and see who gets sick and who doesn’t.
So a challenge trial says, “Look, I’ll take the vaccine or placebo, and then you can infect me directly,” and that’ll speed it up by a few months when in a few months time that could save tens of thousands of lives. But a lot of medical ethicists said, “No, no, no, no. That is too dangerous. We can’t directly infect people with COVID-19. It’s not a good idea.”
So if that’s unethical now, imagine how unethical it was to develop the Hep A and Hep B vaccines by essentially extorting and coercing the parents of mentally handicapped children. But that being said, the evil that happened in the past, it’s not immoral to take Hep B or Hep A vaccines today. They’re not as common in the US, but I took a Hep A vaccine before I did mission work in South America. Hepatitis A is actually very common there. So it’s not sinful for me to take the Hepatitis A vaccine if I’m going to go to a place where it’s not that unlikely I might get it.
So, that goes back to the principle of remote cooperation. The evil act happened in the past. It does not continue into the present and there can be serious reasons to justify it. Like if you don’t want to get Hep B from a bad blood transfusion, or you don’t want to get Hep A, because you’re going to a developing country where it’s quite prevalent.
Another example would be outside of the medical context. And that would be slavery. There’s a lot of things in the US people say, “I don’t want to have anything to do with abortions that happened in the past.” Well, what do you do about the evil of slavery? Slaves dug up the rocks that were used to build the White House and the Capitol Building. In fact, the majority of the railroads in the South were built by slaves. The four major railroad companies in the United States all own and operate lines that were built by slaves.
According to this article one historian, Theodore Kornweibel, has recently begun to research the Southern railroads use of slave labor. Kornweibel found documented evidence for slave labor on over 75% of Southern railroads. He’s also estimated that over 10,000 slaves a year were working on the railroads in the South between 1857 and 1865. So people will say, “I won’t take this vaccine because if that abortion had never happened the vaccine wouldn’t be here.” That’s like saying, if you live in the American South, “I’m not going to buy this at the store because if people were never enslaved they wouldn’t have built this railroad line that brought these goods to the store where I shop at.”
So if you’re opposed to receiving the benefits of an abortion that happened in the past, no matter what the connection is, it seems like you’d also have to be opposed to the benefits of slavery in the past. Including using anything that travels on railroad lines that were built by slave.
Now, some people may say, “Look, it’s just different than slave labor or taxes for immoral things. Participating with abortion, abortion is the worst thing out there. I want nothing to do with it.” And that’s fine if you want nothing to do with it, that’s fine. But you can’t tell other people who are involved in very remote material cooperation with an evil in the past on par with other remote material cooperation that we were involved in, like the previous examples I’ve given. You can’t tell them that they’re in a state of sin. The moral framework simply doesn’t hold up for that.
But even with abortion, let me just give you a hypothetical example. Suppose that Planned Parenthood wanted to change up their public image. So they do a PR move, they donate a $100,000 grant to another organization separate from them that runs a low-income clinic that just offers prenatal care, pediatric visits, everything they offer is moral.
Now imagine that you are a low income family in that neighborhood. That is the only place where you could go to get reliable health care. Would it be sinful for you to go to that low income clinic knowing that clinic has accepted donations from Planned Parenthood, and some of that money probably came from abortion services? So it’s connected to abortion in a remote way.
Now you could choose, say, “I’m not going to go there. I’m not going to be a part of any of this.” That’s your right to do that. But you can’t say a family in this neighborhood seeking healthcare from a clinic offering moral services that happened to receive a donation from Planned Parenthood, you can’t say the low-income family trying to do their best to get health care for their children when there’s no other options is sinning in doing that. Because the connection is so remote from the abortions that were performed.
So we have to have these distinctions between a proximate and remote material cooperation. If we just try to go with our gut or our emotions on these issues, we’re going to make moral errors and impose moral burdens on people that they don’t have to carry. And that’s not right. One of my favorite Bible verses is Galatians 6:2 where Paul says we ought to carry one another’s burdens.
That’s similar to the Pharisees, Jesus said they laid heavy burdens on people and didn’t put a finger out to lift them. When we tell people you have a moral obligation to do something, it better be a moral obligation. Otherwise, we’re doing a great disservice to them and a disservice to the gospel.
Okay. So the statement goes on then to talk about the AstraZeneca vaccine. It says it’s more compromised because this HEK293 cell line from the abortion in the Netherlands in the 70s, it was used in the design development and production of that vaccine. Not just confirmatory testing, like from Moderna or Pfizer.
And so the statement says, “The AstraZeneca vaccine should be avoided if there are alternatives available. It may turn out, however, that one does not really have a choice of vaccine, at least not without a lengthy delay in immunization that could have serious consequences. In such a case, just as accepting a vaccination for Rubella,” which is something else that was produced from aborted fetal cell lines,” Just in the case of the Rubella with a morally compromised vaccine, receiving that is morally permissible because of the lack of alternatives and the serious risks to public health, so it would be permissible to accept the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
Here’s the part where I have a disagreement, there’s a footnote here to this sentence. In the footnote at the bottom of the page, it says this, “If one were to refuse vaccination, one would have a moral responsibility to undertake all the precautions necessary to ensure that one does not become a carrier of the disease to others. Precautions which may include some form of self-isolation.”
So I disagree with this part. I disagree with the wording that’s put forward, not necessarily with some of the moral principles involved. Though, I will say that the fact that this is buried in a footnote seems to me that it’s not a major premise or principle the Bishops are trying to articulate in this document. But it was still included, maybe somebody raised a fuss and said it needed to be in there.
But I really wouldn’t have worded it this way because I think it could be a stumbling block for scrupulous people. So what I would have said is this, “If one were to refuse vaccination, one may have, or would have, one may have a moral responsibility,” you can even put would have, “One would have a moral responsibility to undertake precautions that reduce the likelihood that one does not become a carrier of the disease to others.”
So there’s a difference here. I don’t like that they said one has a moral responsibility to undertake all the precautions necessary to ensure that one does not become a carrier of the disease to others. I worry that could place a very heavy burden on people who becomes scrupulous. Like, “I can never leave my home because I’m not vaccinated.” What about people who are like my wife who’s a nursing mother? She’s supposed to stay home all the time because she can’t receive the vaccine?
They may say though that it’s because you’ve refused rather than you can’t have it. But it is refusal based on, I think, a sound reason. Is Laura supposed to stay home, forever? She has to take every single precaution necessary? So I don’t like that wording. I just would’ve said, “If you’re not going to get vaccinated, then you just have a responsibility to take precautions to reduce the likelihood that you’ll become a carrier.”
That’s it. But it’s up to your conscience as to what that will be. For example, I know people who’ve worked in the hospitals who had a choice that had a choice. They could either take the flu vaccine or wear a mask. And some of them just took the flu vaccine, this was before everybody wore masks. Some of them just took the flu vaccine and they didn’t wear a mask. And others said, I don’t want to take the flu vaccine, so they chose the alternative, they wore a mask while they were working in the hospital.
So I would say to the people who refuse the vaccine, I would just say… Just like with any disease, you have responsibility to take safeguards to not spread it to others. Now, what are those safeguards for you? Well that’s up to you to determine. I think that even people who might really disagree with my positions on this issue would agree there’s some things that you shouldn’t do. Like if you have flu-like symptoms and think you might have COVID, you probably shouldn’t go and visit a nursing home, for example. Or if you’re not vaccinated and it’s still a lot of community spread, maybe you shouldn’t go to a nursing home or a place where you’re mingling closely with very vulnerable people.
But like I said, I don’t like the wording of this here in the footnote. But it still doesn’t take away from the fact that, that the USCCB is not saying, as some people have claimed, that everyone is morally obligated to get this vaccine. They have said to get it to help protect other people can be seen as an act of charity towards other people. And I would agree with that. I don’t want to get people sick. If the vaccine works and it protects me and it keeps me from infecting other people, well, then that’s good. I don’t want people to get sick.
I mean, Christ is the divine physician, right? One of the hallmarks of Christ’s ministry is to heal people. I think we as Christians have an obligation to also not just spiritually heal people. I mean, the church, the early church started the very first hospitals. Now in ancient Rome, they had hospitals for like Roman soldiers. They didn’t have it for regular people. Christians started those. We invented the hospital for regular people. And so we have a duty to care for the sick, the dying, the vulnerable, and those who have illnesses. But that doesn’t mean you are obligated to do every single thing in the world to make sure nobody else gets sick. There’s a common sense principle that people can follow.
You know what’s funny, actually, with COVID? When I fly on airplanes, I used to wash my hands all the time and I wiped everything down with an antibiotic wipe, like a wet wipe. When I used to travel. Although I’ve noticed, I haven’t gotten sick and a lot of other people aren’t getting sick because now people are finally taking care of themselves.
It’s like before COVID-19 people are like, “Washing your hands…” People acted like 19th century aristocrats who didn’t understand the germ theory of disease, and this is a real argument people made in the 19th Century against hand-washing. “A true gentleman never has to wash his hands. He’s not some vagrant!”
Do you think this, too? I feel like people were really dirty before the pandemic. And now we’re like, “Oh yeah, I better wash my hands. Oh yeah, I better wipe things down.”
In case, under the section on Scandal, it goes on to say that experiencing the benefits that have resulted from an evil action, one might become desensitized to the gravely evil nature of that action, might become complacent about the action and ignore the obligation to do what one can to oppose the evil actions.”
What do we do? We have vaccines that have a remote connection to abortion, regardless. We don’t want to ignore or become complacent. And that’s on both sides. Both people who get a vaccine and those who refuse. Because let’s say you, you want to make a moral stand and you refuse to get the vaccine. Well, if you don’t tell the pharmaceutical companies about that, it doesn’t really do anything if you refuse to get it.
So I would say, wherever you stand on this issue, sit down, write out a letter or an email, send it to Moderna or Pfizer or AstraZeneca. First, try to get the ones that are less connected to the abortions in the past, which are Moderna and Pfizer. And for those, encourage them to confirm the efficacy of the vaccine with an ethical method, not one that relied on the HEK293 cell line.
And in doing that, maybe we can get a form of the vaccine in their trials and they reproduce it to say, “Yeah, we’ve produced it with the same morally licit approach to make the vaccine, but we’ve confirmed this batch with an ethically neutral alternative.” And if we can do that, that would be good. So send a letter and do that.
Now, some people may say, “Why is it so complicated? How can it be like where we should take this, but we should also protest it. Isn’t that contradictory?” Well, no it’s not because the actions we choose in the world, it’s not just pure good and irredeemable evil. The actions we might take in the world are a spectrum.
Now I’m not a relativist, I’m not being a relativist about this. But it’s not like there’s just pure good and just pure evil. Some of the actions we take are tolerable. Like we tolerate it, we hold our nose. For example, have you ever voted for a political candidate who you really, really didn’t like? There were things you really didn’t like about him or her, but you saw the alternative was worse and not voting didn’t get the job done, so you held your nose and voted for that individual?
Well, that’s not pure good or pure evil. That’s the world we live in. And so what we can do in these cases is to say, “All right, here’s something that’s tolerable, but it can be improved. I’ll take that which is tolerable now and work towards improving it later. Because of the negative consequences that can incur from not doing anything.”
So it concludes by saying, “Given the urgency of this crisis, the lack of available alternative vaccines, and the fact that the connection between an abortion that occurred decades ago and receiving a vaccine produced today as remote, inoculation with the new COVID-19 vaccines in these circumstances can be morally justified.”
So they’re not saying it’s obligatory, they’re saying it can be morally justified. You are permitted to do that. And the Bishops give reasons as to why we should do that as an act of charity for other people. “For our part, we Bishops and all Catholics and men and women of goodwill must continue to do what we can to ensure the development, production, distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine without any connection to abortion and to help change what has become the standard practice in much medical research. A practice in which certain morally compromised cell lines routinely used as a matter of course with no consideration of the moral question concerning the origins of those cell lines.”
So I hope this episode was helpful for you, and went on a little bit longer. But it’s an important issue and I wanted to make sure we nuanced and understood it correctly. If you go to trenthornpodcast.com I have links to the show resources that I’ve discussed. If you want to learn more about this, definitely check out the National Catholic Bioethics Center. They have a lot of great resources on COVID-19 and vaccinations and cooperation with evil that I think you’d really benefit from. So I hope this was helpful for you all. And I hope that you all have a very blessed day.
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