The Vatican has said it is morally acceptable to use COVID-19 vaccines even if their production employed cell lines drawn from tissues of aborted fetuses.
A note issued Dec. 21 from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the use of such vaccines was permitted as long as there were no alternatives.
Both the Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc vaccines have some connection to cell lines that originated with tissue from abortions in the last century, according to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which issued a separate note to American Catholics last week.
In explaining the Vatican’s announcement, the note said that the question of vaccine use, in general, is often at the center of controversy in the forum of public opinion.
“In recent months, this Congregation has received several requests for guidance regarding the use of vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, which, in the course of research and production, employed cell lines drawn from tissue obtained from two abortions that occurred in the last century,” said the note approved by Pope Francis.
“At the same time, diverse and sometimes conflicting pronouncements in the mass media by bishops, Catholic associations, and experts have raised questions about the morality of the use of these vaccines.”
The Vatican note said the granting of moral legitimacy was related to the principle “differing degrees of responsibility of cooperation in evil.” This meant that because the pandemic is such a grave danger, such vaccines “can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that (it) does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive,” the note said.
In the absence of safe vaccines made from other sources, “it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”
The American bishops said the vaccines employed cell lines drawn from tissue obtained from two abortions that took place in the 1960s and 1970s and that often have been replicated since.
The Vatican note said use of such vaccines “does not in itself constitute a legitimation, even indirect, of the practice of abortion“.
The note stressed that: “the licit use of such vaccines does not and should not in any way imply that there is a moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses.”
The note urged the pharmaceutical industry to develop completely ethical vaccines and governments and international organizations to make them accessible to poorer nations.
The Vatican added that the use of vaccines was voluntary and is not, as a rule, a moral obligation.
“In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good,” the note said.
“In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed,” it said.
“Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent. In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.”