The Covid-19 vaccine question is a complicated one which involves many issues. Are government mandates appropriate? Are private employer mandates appropriate? How good and/or bad are the vaccines as a prevention against Covid-19, or against serious health issues, or against death from Covid-19? How risky are the vaccines when it comes to possible side effects? How risky is taking the vaccine as opposed to not taking it? Should there be religious exemptions for people who have conscience concerns about the vaccine? This article doesn't deal with any of those. I might take up some of those issues in the future, but through many discussions with people about this whole complex raft of issues, I find that they quickly shift back and forth between different questions without fully dealing with any one of them.
This question requires focus, which means I plan to deal with one main issue at a time. The issue today has to do with medications that involve, in some way, the use of stem cells from lines that trace back to aborted human embryos. I am going to assume the basic Christian consensus that abortion is a moral evil and that Christians are forbidden from procuring abortions or performing them. In other words, abortion is wrong, period.
But increasingly I am seeing Christians arguing that the Christian prohibition against abortion implies that getting a vaccination is also wrong because of various allegations about the use of aborted fetal tissue in vaccinations. This is no longer a claim made on the fringes: I see comments from both thought leaders and ordinary Christians that go far beyond the actual established facts, calling on Christians to refuse the vaccine due to these alleged abortion connections. One of the editors at The Stream, John Zmirak, has referred to "The dead baby vaccine", (Abandon the Faithful to the Dead Baby Vaccine, Cardinal Dolan Demands of Priests | The Stream) and has had his arguments promoted by Christian apologist Eric Metaxas repeatedly. Beyond that, I've seen more references than I can count, in conservative Christian social media gossip, to the idea that the vaccine is "contaminated" by fetal tissue, etc. This idea is out there, and like the Delta variant, it is spreading rapidly.
One tragic example is the Pastor and Christian talk show host, Bob Enyart, who refused to take the vaccine, claiming that some of them had been tested on fetal tissue:
"August 2021 update: Bob and Cheryl Enyart have sworn off taking the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson vaccines because, as those firms admit, they tested these three products on the cells of aborted babies."KGOV
And he urged Christians to boycott the vaccine to put pressure on the abortion industry:
"…we urge everyone to boycott Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson to further increase social tension and put pressure on the child killers."KGOV
Sadly, since then, Enyart has died of Covid. But did he or others who contracted Covid suffer or die needlessly because they refused the vaccine because of abortion concerns?
First, let's apply the 9th Commandment test. Christians are forbidden to bear false witness. So when Christians make claims about the vaccines in order to persuade others not to get vaccinated, are those charges factually true? Are the vaccines in any meaningful sense "dead baby vaccines?" Are they made from aborted fetal tissue? Were they tested on the cells of aborted babies?
The answer is no. The Charlotte Lozier Institute has detailed research about fetal tissue in vaccination production. Here's a basic explainer on how it works. None of the vaccines have aborted fetal tissue in them. The vaccines do not use aborted fetal tissue in their development. The actual issue with the current Covid vaccines is described well by Human Life International. It is "Vaccines that used fetal tissue from so-called 'immortal' cell lines that were derived from babies which were aborted long ago." Which is a very different thing.
HLI does acknowledge that there is medical experimentation going on right now on actual newly aborted fetal tissue, which is indeed horrific. But that is not the case with any of the big three Covid vaccines which are currently disputed.
So, when it comes to the vaccine wars, we're not talking about aborted fetal tissue being physically present in the vaccines. We're also not talking about using aborted tissue indirectly on the way to making the vaccines. We're talking about using clones of clones of clones of clones… in the thousands of generations… of cells from aborted embryos from the 70s or 80s indirectly in the development of the vaccines.
I should also add that these practices do not just apply to the politically contentious Covid vaccines: various other vaccines such as those against measles, rubella and polio also have used cell lines descended from embryonic tissue in similar ways. Furthermore, some medications which have become politically favored (and God help us now that we live in a world where medications are favored or disfavored along political lines!) by many who are vaccine hesitant, such as Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine, also appear to have involved embryonic stem cell line testing. Mechanism of Ivermectin Facilitation of Human P2X4 Receptor Channels (nih.gov); Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine Are Novel Inhibitors of Human Organic Anion Transporting Polypeptide 1A2 - PubMed (nih.gov). So to single out Covid vaccines for this scrutiny without alerting readers and/or listeners to the wide array of other medications which also use embryonic stem cell lines is highly misleading.
Of course, setting the record straight about the specifics of the case, while important, does not resolve the controversy by itself. There are still moral issues to be dealt with, but making moral decisions about real life situations first means actually knowing the facts about those real life situations.
So, are Christians forbidden from using vaccines which indirectly involve medical research on cloned cell lines thousands of generations removed from abortions in which they did not participate and had no control? That's a separate issue and will require separate treatment in our next column.
Jerry Bowyer is financial economist, president of Bowyer Research, and author of “The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics.”