Should Christians receive a vaccine that uses aborted fetal cells in its production?
The death, disruption, and anxiety wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic have reminded us of the importance of vaccines. The situation also has raised concerns about what the Christian community’s moral obligations are in the face of the vaccine production process and the public health threat posed by the pandemic.
As your question suggests, for Christians committed to the dignity of unborn life, the use of cells derived from aborted fetuses in the production of vaccines is concerning. While none of the COVID-19 vaccines contain fetal cells, some manufacturers have used such cells in the development and testing phases of the process. Other manufacturers have used them only for safety testing. Their source is a small number of cell lines initiated from a few abortions decades ago. Accordingly, the current process does not produce additional demand for abortions today.
It is striking how so many pro-life ethicists have supported Christians receiving these vaccines due to the gravity of the situation and the lack of alternative vaccines produced without the use of fetal cell lines. Most such ethicists have concluded that those receiving the vaccine are in no way responsible for the original abortion.
However, moral unease might remain—perhaps appropriately so. The current situation reminds us that being a consistent advocate of life sometimes involves difficult tensions. The dignity of the unborn is part of a consistent ethic of life, as is wise action in the face of a devastating disease. The vaccines are a life-giving good, but that does not remove the lamentable aspects of the production process. At the same time, it is impossible to avoid some cost/benefit analysis given the need to stop the pandemic—also in the name of respect for life.
On this side of the New Creation, the Christian life cannot always avoid moral tragedy. Moral permissibility and even moral desirability aren’t always the same as moral purity. Opposition to abortion naturally produces an element of discomfort even in those of us who choose to be vaccinated out of concern for our community and our world.