Of the many lies told by anti-vaccination advocates, this is one of the worst, because it hits on a real moral issue. However, anyone with a modicum of training in biology will tell you that it is impossible for vaccines (or any other injected medicine) to contain human tissue. The reason is simple: if you are injected with anything containing tissue from another person, your body will immediately recognize it as an invader and begin attacking it. This immune response is often quite radical and can easily lead to death! This is why blood from a donor to a recipient must be carefully matched before the recipient can receive it. Thus, there is no human tissue of any kind in vaccines. Unfortunately, the anti-vaccination movement (and even some naive pro- life groups) will try to convince the uninformed that vaccines contain tissue from aborted babies and that abortions must be continually done to supply this tissue to the “evil” drug companies. This is, of course, a bald-faced lie. Unfortunately, this lie is particularly evil, in that it targets a person’s morally correct view that abortion is murder.
For any lie to be successful, there must be a grain of truth in it. This lie is no exception. There is a tangential connection between some vaccines and abortion. The hepatitis A vaccine, the rubella portion of the MMR vaccine, the chicken pox vaccine, and the shingles vaccine all contain viruses (weakened or inactivated) that were grown in human cells. A virus must be given a medium in which to propagate. Many vaccines use viruses that can propagate in several kinds of mammal cells, but some viruses are so specific that they can only propagate in human cells. The viruses used in the above-listed vaccines are that specific. Thus, they must be grown in human cells.
Where do the vaccine companies get the cells for these vaccines? They get them from companies like Coriell Cell Repositories, 403 Haddon Avenu, Camden, New Jersey 08103, 800-752-3805. This company has many cell lines, which are cultures of self-perpetuating cells. Each culture of cells is continually reproducing, making more cells. Those cells are sold to researchers, drug companies, and other medical technology firms. The specific cell lines used in vaccines are the MRC-5 and WI-38 cell lines1, and they have been supplying medical research of all types for more than 45 years. Where do these cell lines come from? That’s where the grain of truth in this lie comes from. Both of these cell lines were cultured from cells taken from two abortions, one (MRC-5) that was performed in September,19662 and one (WI-38) that was performed in July, 19623.
Now that you have learned the facts, we can discuss the moral issues involved. Is it immoral to use these cell lines to make vaccines? The answer is definitely not. You might think that the cell lines are somehow “tainted” because they come from abortions; however, think about it for a moment. Abortion is murder. A person who claims to be a physician purposefully kills an innocent, unprotected person. That is evil, and there is no doubt about it. However, let’s consider another murder, shall we? Let’s suppose one of your loved ones was shot in a robbery attempt. You rush your loved one to the hospital, but it is too late. Your loved one dies. This is another murder, and it is just as evil. Suppose that the doctors rush in and tell you that there is a young boy in the next room who needs a heart immediately, or he will die. The doctors have analyzed your loved one’s blood and found that your loved one is a perfect match for the dying boy. Would you donate your loved one’s heart to the boy? I certainly would. It would be a tragedy that my loved one was murdered, but at least this would be a “silver lining” in that dark cloud. At least my loved one’s death would mean that a young boy could live.
The cells that were taken from the two aborted babies more than 35 years ago are much like my loved one’s heart. Two innocent babies were killed. However, they were able to donate something that has been used not only to make vaccines, but in many medical research projects over the years. Thus, these cells have been saving millions of lives for almost two generations! Although the babies were clearly murdered, the fact that their cells have been saving lives is at least a silver lining in the dark cloud of their tragic murder.
It is important to note that Federal law is quite specific in the matter of donated fetal tissue. The law does not allow for an abortion to be performed for the purpose of donating tissue, and the law even explicitly states that the abortion procedure cannot be changed in order to collect the tissue4. It also prohibits the baby’s family or the doctor from profiting from the donation5. Thus, these cells were truly donated, just as any organ might be donated. If a person is an organ donor and he or she is murdered, it is not immoral for you to use those organs. Once again, at least something good will come out of the murder if those organs are used.
Now that you know the facts, you can see why I consider this lie so devious. Anti-vaccination advocates play on a person’s proper moral indignation about abortion, claiming that if a person gets vaccinated, he or she is supporting the abortion industry. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Whether or not you get vaccinated, the same number of abortions will be performed, as abortions are not necessary to make new vaccines. In addition, you are actually dishonoring the memories of those two precious babies if you refuse vaccination, because you are refusing the one good thing that has come from their murder. At the same time, you are putting your life and the lives of your loved ones in jeopardy by refusing one of the greatest protections that medicine has ever developed! How could anyone call himself pro-life if he dishonors the memory of those who have been murdered while risking the lives of those he loves?
Interestingly enough, a June 9, 2005 statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life (the Vatican’s official voice in the area of abortion/right-to-life) comes to essentially the same conclusion. Even though some organizations have mischaracterized the document as condemning the use of such vaccines6, the document, in fact, says quite the opposite. It says that when an alternative vaccine which has no connection whatsoever to abortion is available, parents should use it. There is no question that this is the moral thing to do. In addition, when there is no alternative available, parents should object by demonstration, etc. so as to force manufactures to come up with an alternative.
However, as for actually using the vaccines that have no alternatives, the document clearly says that parents can do so in order to protect their children and the community. The English translation of the document (originally written in Italian) says, “As regards the vaccines without an alternative, the need to contest so that others may be prepared must be reaffirmed, as should be the lawfulness of using the former in the meantime insomuch as is necessary in order to avoid a serious risk not only for one’s own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole – especially for pregnant women.”7 Note what this official Roman Catholic document says. It says that parents should CONTEST the vaccines so as to force the manufactures to find new ways to make them, but UNTIL THAT HAPPENS, parents can still use the vaccines that have no alternative, because it will allow them to avoid serious risk to their children, and more importantly, to the population as a whole. The moral good done by the vaccine, then, outweighs any moral evil when it comes to actually USING the vaccine. The statement clearly says the MAKING of the vaccine is bad, but the USE of it is not. In fact, the document specifically mentions rubella as something that should be vaccinated against, even though there is no alternative vaccine – “Moreover, we find, in such a case, a proportional reason, in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favouring the spread of the pathological agent, due to the lack of vaccination of children. This is particularly true in the case of vaccination against German measles.”7
Because some organizations have tried to mischaracterize this statement, the Catholic News Service (CNS) produced an article that quotes Msgr. Jacques Suaudeau, a medical doctor and official at the Pontifical Academy for Life, as saying, “If the health of the child or of the whole population [is at risk], the parents should accept having their kid be vaccinated if there is no alternative.” 8 Because some organizations clearly do not like the Roman Catholic church officially saying that the use of these vaccines is morally acceptable, they have asked the Pontifical Academy for Life to change its statement. However, CNS reports that Msgr. Jacques Suaudeau said the document “could not be changed” because it accurately reflected church teaching.8 Despite what you might read, then, even the Vatican supports the use of vaccines that have a tangential relationship to abortion, as long as no alternative vaccines are available.
NOTE: A reader suggested that it would be helpful to present a list of alternatives to the vaccines discussed here. If you feel that you cannot use vaccines that have a tangential relationship to abortion, please follow this link. It is from a well-known pro-life group and discusses the issues in an even-handed manner. More importantly, it contains a list of the vaccines that do have a tangential relationship to abortion and the licensed alternatives to them.
1. Merck and Co, VAQTA (Hepatitis A), M-M-R-II, VARIVAX product inserts 908-423-1000; GLAXO Smithkline Heptatitis A vaccine product insert, 888-825-5249
2. Coriell Cell Repositories – Product AG05965
3. Coriell Cell Repositories – Product AG06814
4. Public Law 103-43; June 10, 1993, National Institutes Of Health Revitalization Act Of 1993, Title I – General Provisions Regarding Title IV Of Public Health Service Act, Part G, Sec. 498A: c-4
5. Public Law 103-43; June 10, 1993, National Institutes Of Health Revitalization Act Of 1993, Title I – General Provisions Regarding Title IV Of Public Health Service Act, Part G, Sec. 498B: a
Dr. Wile is not a medical doctor. He is a nuclear chemist. As a result, he does not dispense medical advice. He simply educates the public about scientific issues. Please consult a board-certified medical doctor before making any medical decisions for yourself or your family.