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Cell lines derived from aborted fetuses in COVID-19 vaccines a concern for some Catholics

Last Updated Mar 2, 2021 at 6:01 pm MDT

One of Canada’s top theologians says before Catholics roll up their sleeves they should arm themselves with information about the different COVID-19 vaccines, and when possible, avoid “unethical” ones that contain cell lines derived from aborted fetuses.

Director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute and professor of Moral Theology, Dr. Moira McQueen, weighed in on the raging debate Tuesday after the Archdiocese of New Orleans released a statement on February 26, saying the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is “morally compromised” because it “uses the abortion-derived cell line in development and production of the vaccine…”

In its statement, the Archdiocese of New Orleans urged Catholics to avoid the Johnson & Johnson shot and instead opt for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which “do not rely on cell lines from abortions in the manufacturing process and therefore can be morally acceptable for Catholics …”

Science Magazine and some media outlets including NBC and The New York Times note that the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was created using PER.C6 — a cell line derived from a fetus that was aborted in 1985.

Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical company, Janssen Canada, responded on Tuesday night saying: “There is no fetal tissue in our Janssen COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Our COVID-19 vaccine is an inactivated/non-infective adenovirus vector (similar to a cold virus), which codes for the coronavirus “spike” (S) protein.

Nebraska Medicine, a health network that employs over 9,000 people also makes clear on its website that “fetal cell lines are not the same as fetal tissue. Fetal cell lines are cells that grow in a laboratory. They descend from cells taken from elective abortions in the 1970s and 1980s.”

McQueen says it’s important for Catholics to know they have options that don’t clash with their faith.

“There’s many people who have serious questions about the ethics of the vaccines,” McQueen told CityNews on Tuesday. “If you’re really serious about the anti-abortion, pro-life kind of view, you don’t want to utilize anything that uses those kind of cell lines if there is something else available.”

“If they are available, we’re supposed to ask for the ethical ones.”

But McQueen says Catholics must also factor in the greater good of public health.

“If there’s nothing else available, take the vaccine that is available,” she advised. “It would be very wrong to compromise other people because of my own conscientious decisions and that is something that will have to be taken into account.”

The Vatican issued its own guidance in December, saying that when no other “ethically irreproachable” options are available, it is “morally acceptable” to use COVID-19 vaccines developed from cell lines derived from aborted fetuses.

The Vatican also stressed that Catholics can take any of the approved vaccines due the “grave danger” COVID-19 presents and that doing so doesn’t equate to a “moral endorsement” of abortion.

“It must therefore be considered that, in such a case, all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive,” the Vatican said.

The Vatican also urged pharmaceutical companies and governments to create vaccines that don’t “create problems of conscience” and reminded those who refuse a vaccine to “pursue the common good” of public health.

“Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid … becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent.”