Michael Cook

Facing up to vaccines created with aborted fetal cells

Michael Cook
By Michael Cook
Image

August 22, 2013 (MercatorNet) - After decades of ignoring the issue, Nature, the world’s leading science journal, has finally acknowledged that creating life-saving vaccines from tissue from aborted foetuses is a deeply controversial ethical issue.

In 1964, an American researcher obtained cells from a Swedish foetus aborted because her mother already had enough children. He coaxed them into multiplying into a cell line which he called WI-38. Since they were normal and healthy, they were ideal for creating vaccines. Two years later, scientists in the UK obtained cells from a 14-week male fetus aborted for "psychiatric reasons" from a 27-year-old British woman. This cell line is called MRC-5.

It is undeniable that the vaccines made from WI-38 and MRC-5 cells have saved millions of lives. Scientists have made vaccines against rubella, rabies, adenovirus, polio, measles, chickenpox and shingles, as well as smallpox, chicken pox and hepatitis A.

But protests by opponents of abortion have been largely ignored by the scientific community. If you Google “vaccines” and “abortion”, only Catholic groups, right-to-life organisations and sites warning about the dangers of vaccinations mention the topic. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention barely alludes to it even though it has abundant information on vaccines. A website called Vaccine Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics fails to mention it.

The reason is clear: vaccines save lives and the abortions happened a long time ago. Get over it. Who cares? “At the time [the fetus] was obtained there was no issue in using discarded material. Retrospective ethics is easy but presumptuous,” says Stanley Plotkin, the American scientist who developed the rubella vaccine. “I am fond of saying that rubella vaccine has prevented thousands more abortions than have ever been prevented by Catholic religionists.”

But now even Nature – which supports abortion rights and reproductive technology – has expressed its misgivings. “More than 50 years after the WI-38 cell line was derived from a fetus, science and society [have] still to get to grips with the ethical issues of using human tissue in research,” its editorial declared in June.

What has changed?

If you could single out a reason, it would be the intensely moving 2010 best-seller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. This book has nothing to do with abortion, but it highlights the deep respect, almost sacredness, that the body of a human person must command, even something as insignificant as discarded tissue.

Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman who was 31 when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Cells from her tumour became the first human cells cultured continuously for use in research. HeLa cells have helped to make possible some of the most important medical advances of the past 60 years, including modern vaccines, cancer treatments, and IVF techniques. They are the most widely used human cell lines in existence. More than 300 scientific papers are published every month using HeLa cells.

There is no question about their usefulness – but were they obtained ethically? Is it ethical to continue using them?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks raises disturbing questions which transcend “usefulness”. Henrietta Lacks was poor and black. Her children, it seems, are even poorer. A doctor at Johns Hopkins removed her cells without asking her. He cultivated the cells without informing her. He distributed the cells without asking permission of her family. Companies became rich by using her cells without paying royalties. Her family only learned that their mother’s cells had been scattered around the world in 1973. Their complaints were ignored for many years – after all, they were only poor, uneducated black folks.

No one cared about the woman called Henrietta Lacks who was overdosed with radium, who died leaving five children behind, one of them an epileptic housed in a filthy, chaotic institution called The Hospital for the Negro Insane. Some people even thought that HeLa cells originated with a woman named Helen Lane. Her daughter wrote in a diary, “When that day came, and my mother died, she was Robbed of her cells and John Hopkins Hospital learned of those cells and kept it to themselfs, and gave them to who they wanted and even changed the name to HeLa cell and kept it from us for 20+ years. They say Donated. No No No Robbed Self.”

It was only earlier this year that the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) negotiated an agreement with the family. All researchers who use or generate full genomic data from HeLa cells must now include in their publications an acknowledgement and expression of gratitude to the Lacks family.

Incredibly, despite all the publicity, scientists continued to ignore the concerns of the Lacks family. Just a few months ago, German researchers published the first sequence of the full HeLa genome. This compromised not only Henrietta Lacks’s genetic privacy but also her family’s. (The researchers have removed the sequence from public view.)

The story of HeLa cells, in short, is twofold: a story of towering scientific achievement and a story of exploitation by ambitious and callous scientists.

Less famous, but even more important, says Nature, have been WI-38 cells. HeLa cells multiply prolifically, but they are cancerous. WI-38 cells are healthy and normal and have been used to develop vaccines against rubella, rabies, adenovirus, polio, measles, chickenpox and shingles. Their origin is even more controversial than the dark story of Henrietta Lacks.

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

In 1962 a Swedish woman who was four months pregnant had a legal abortion because she did not want another child. The lungs of the foetus were removed and sent to Philadelphia. At the Wistar Institute for Anatomy and Biology they were minced up, processed and cultured by Leonard Hayflick. He had been culturing cells from aborted foetuses for years, even though abortion was technically illegal in Pennsylvania at the time, except for medical emergencies.

After he successfully multiplied the WI-38 cells, Hayflick created more than 800 batches and distributed them freely around the world to drug companies and researchers. He eventually quarrelled with Wistar authorities because he thought that his contribution was being ignored. Without permission, he took all the remaining batches to California and his new job at Stanford. This led to years of bitter legal battles over who owned the cells. No one worried about where they had come from.

The abortion connection is beyond dispute, although, as Nature points out, “until now, that story has failed to reach the broad audience it deserves.” As in the Henrietta Lacks case, no informed consent was given by the Swedish mother. Her identity is known but she refuses to talk about the case. The doctors involved are all dead. A Swedish medical historian told Nature that in Sweden, “research material like tissues from aborted fetuses were available and used for research without consent or the knowledge of patients for a long time”, both before and after consent rules were tightened later in the 1960s.

The drug companies and institutions which have used WI-38 deny that there are serious ethical concerns either with the use of cells from aborted foetuses or with the lack of consent.

The institution which has examined this issue most closely is the Vatican. In 2005 it released a meticulously researched study of the ethical issues involved in using vaccines which had been developed with tissue from aborted foetuses. Even though it contended that parents could have their children vaccinated with a clear conscience, it did not dismiss the question as irrelevant or absurd. On the contrary, it concluded that “there is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems.”

And it said that the existing situation was completely unjust. “Parents… are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible.”

What is the way forward?

I am writing from suburban Sydney which long ago lost its connection to the Aboriginal tribes who once lived here. Yet at every civic ceremony we acknowledge the memory of the Cammeraygal and Wallumedegal peoples. It is a form of reparation for the dispossession, disease and death which carried them away, leaving neither names nor descendants.

Doesn’t the story of Henrietta Lacks suggest that drug companies should do something similar with their vaccine products? From now on, the NIH says, scientists who use HeLa cells must include “an acknowledgment and expression of gratitude to the Lacks family for their contributions”.

Why shouldn’t drug companies and researchers who use the WI-38 (or the MRC-5 cells) do the same? “This vaccine was developed with the cells of a Swedish child who was aborted in 1964. We are grateful for her contribution and grieve at her absence.”

Reprinted with permission from Mercatornet.com under a creative commons license.

Only 7 days left!

Support pro-life news. Help us reach our critical spring fundraising goal by April 1!


Share this article

Advertisement
Featured Image
Credit: John-Henry Westen, LifeSiteNews
John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry

, ,

Vatican’s doctrine chief: ‘Absolutely anti-Catholic’ to let bishops conferences decide doctrine or discipline

John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry
By John-Henry Westen

VATICAN, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has rejected outright the idea floated by Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx that various bishops’ conferences around the world would decide for themselves on points of discipline or doctrine. 

“This is an absolutely anti-Catholic idea that does not respect the catholicity of the Church,” Cardinal Müller told France’s Famille Chrétienne in an interview published today

The question was raised because Cardinal Marx, the head of the German Catholic bishops’ conference and a member of Pope Francis’ advisory Council of Nine, told reporters that the German bishops would chart their own course on the question of allowing Communion for those in “irregular” sexual unions.

“We are not a subsidiary of Rome,” he said in February. “The Synod cannot prescribe in detail what we should do in Germany.”

Vatican Cardinal Müller remarked that while episcopal conferences may have authority over certain issues they are not a parallel magisterium apart from the pope or outside communion with the bishops united to him.

Asked specifically about Cardinal Marx saying that the Church in Germany is “not a subsidiary of Rome,” the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said pointedly “the president of an Episcopal Conference is nothing more than a technical moderator, and as such has no special teaching authority.”  He added moreover, that the dioceses in a particular country “are not subsidiaries of the secretariat of an Episcopal conference or diocese whose Bishop presides over the Episcopal Conference.”

Click "like" to support Catholics Restoring the Culture!

The CDF head warned that “this attitude makes the risk of waking some polarization between the local churches and the universal Church.” He did not however believe that there was the will for Episcopal conferences to separate from Rome.

The important interview also saw Cardinal Müller contest the notion that the pastoral practice or discipline could change while retaining the same doctrine. “We can not affirm the doctrine and initiate a practice that is contrary to the doctrine,” he said.

He added that not even the papal Magisterium is free to change doctrine. “Every word of God is entrusted to the Church, but it is not superior to the Word,” he said. “The Magisterium is not superior to the word of God. The reverse is true.”

Cardinal Müller rejected the notion that we would have to modify Christ’s unflinching words totally forbidding divorce and remarriage.  We cannot “say that our ministry should be more cautious than Jesus Christ Himself!”  Nor could we, he added, say that Christ’s teaching is out of date or that “we need to correct or refine Jesus Christ because He lived in an idealistic world.” 

Rather, the cardinal said, bishops must be ready for martyrdom.  Quoting Jesus he said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and if we speak all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

Advertisement
Featured Image
Shutterstock.com
Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben

‘Groundbreaking’: Kansas may become first state to ban dismemberment abortions

Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben
By Ben Johnson

TOPEKA, KS, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Kansas will become the first state in the country to ban a procedure in which unborn children are dismembered in the womb, if Gov. Sam Brownback signs a bill that recently passed the state legislature.

The state House passed a ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions, called dismemberment abortions in common parlance, by 98-26 on Wednesday.

The Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, which had already passed the state Senate in February 31-9, now heads to Gov. Brownback's desk.

Brownback, a staunch defender of life, is expected to sign the act into law.

"Because of the Kansas legislature's strong pro-life convictions, unborn children in the state will be protected from brutal dismemberment abortions," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, which has made banning dismemberment abortions a national legislative focus.

The procedure, in which an abortionist separates the unborn child's limbs from his body one at a time, accounts for 600 abortions statewide every year.

Nationally, it is “the most prevalent method of second-trimester pregnancy termination in the USA, accounting for 96 percent of all second trimester abortions,” according to the National Abortion Federation Abortion Training Textbook.

“It’s just unconscionable that something happens to children that we wouldn’t tolerate being done to pets,” Katie Ostrowski, the legislative director of Kansans for Life, told The Wichita Eagle.

Leading pro-life advocacy groups have made shifting the debate to dismemberment a national priority, with similar legislation being considered in Missouri and Oklahoma. Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., who is NRLC's director of state legislation, called the bill's passage in Topeka “groundbreaking.”

"When the national debate focuses only on the mother, it is forgetting someone," she said.

The abortion lobby has made clear that it is uncomfortable engaging in a public relations tussle on this ground.

Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues associate of the Guttmacher Institute, said that dismemberment is “not medical language, so it’s a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do.”

On the state Senate floor, Democrats tried to alter the bill's language on the floor by replacing the term “unborn child” with fetus. “I know some of you don’t believe in science. But it’s not an unborn child, it’s called a fetus,” said state Senator David Haley, D-Kansas City.

If the bill becomes law, the abortion industry has vowed to fight on.

Julie Burkhart, a former associate of late-term abortionist George Tiller, said the motion's only intention is “to intimidate, threaten and criminalize doctors.”

“Policymakers should be ashamed,” she said, adding, “if passed, we will challenge it in court.”

Gov. Brownback has previously signed conscience rights protections and sweeping pro-life protections into law.

Advertisement
Featured Image
Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com
Anne Hendershott

,

How NOT to move beyond the abortion wars

Anne Hendershott
By Anne Hendershott

March 26, 2015 (CrisisMagazine.com) -- A few years ago, when an undergraduate student research assistant of mine—a recent convert to Catholicism—told me that he was planning to meet with a well-known dissenting Catholic theology professor who was then ensconced in an endowed chair at a major metropolitan Catholic university, I told him: “Be careful, you might end up liking him too much.” I jokingly told my student not to make eye contact with the theologian because he might begin to find himself agreeing with him that Catholic teachings “really allow” for women’s ordination and full reproductive rights—including access to abortion.

I was reminded of that conversation this week when I began reading a new book by yet another engaging Catholic theology professor at a major metropolitan university who also claims (pg 6) that the argument he puts forward in his book, Beyond the Abortion Wars, is “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine.” Written by Charles Camosy, associate professor of theology at Fordham University, the new book purports to be in line with Catholic teachings and promises “a way forward for a new generation.” But, Camosy delivers yet another argument for a woman’s right to choose abortion when confronted with an unborn child that he has described—in the past—as an “innocent aggressor.”

Indeed, Camosy has spent much of his career trying to convince us that he knows Catholic teachings better than the bishops. Criticizing Bishop Olmsted for his intervention and excommunication of a hospital administrator for her role in the direct abortion at a Phoenix Catholic hospital, Camosy suggested in 2013 that “the infamous Phoenix abortion case set us back in this regard.” Implying that Bishop Olmsted was not smart enough to understand the moral theology involved in the case, Camosy claimed that “The moral theology in the case was complex—which makes the decision to declare publicly that Sr. McBride had excommunicated herself even more inexplicable. The Church can do better.” For Camosy, “Catholics must be ready to help shape our new discussion on abortion. And we must do so in a way that draws people into the conversation—not only with respectful listening, but speaking in a way that is both coherent and sensitive.”

This new book is likely Camosy’s attempt to “draw people into the conversation.” But, there is little in his book that is either coherent or sensitive. Claiming to want to move “beyond” the abortion wars, Camosy creates an argument that seems designed to offend the pro-life side, while giving great respect to those who want to make sure abortion remains legal.

Especially offensive for pro-life readers will be Camosy’s description of the abortifacient, RU-486 as a form of “indirect abortion.” The reality is that RU-486, commonly known as the “abortion pill,” effectively ends an early pregnancy (up to 8 weeks) by turning off the pregnancy hormone (progesterone). Progesterone is necessary to maintain the pregnancy and when it is made inoperative, the fetus is aborted. For Camosy, who claims that his book is “consistent with settled Catholic doctrine,” this is not a “direct” abortion. To illustrate this, Camosy enlists philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson’s 1971 “Defense of Abortion”—the hypothetical story of the young woman who is kidnapped and wakes up in a hospital bed to find that her healthy circulatory system has been hooked up to a famous unconscious violinist who has a fatal kidney ailment. The woman’s body is being used to keep the violinist alive until a “cure” for the violinist can be found. Camosy makes the case—as hundreds of thousands of pro-choice proponents have made in the past four decades—that one cannot be guilty of directly killing the violinist if one simply disconnects oneself from him. Likewise, for Camosy, simply taking the drug RU 486 is not “directly” killing the fetus. He writes:

The drugs present in RU 486 do not by their very nature appear to attack the fetus. Instead, the drug cuts off the pregnancy hormone and the fetus is detached from the woman’s body…. Using RU 486 is like removing yourself from [Judith Jarvis Thompson’s] violinist once you are attached. You don’t aim at his death, but instead remove yourself because you don’t think you have the duty to support his life with your body…. Some abortions are indirect and better understood as refusals to aid (pp 82-83).

Perhaps there are some readers who will find Camosy’s argument convincing, but I am not sure that many faithful Catholic readers will agree that it is consistent with settled Catholic doctrine.

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

As one who is hardly a bystander in the abortion wars, I wanted to like this book. As an incrementalist who celebrates every small step in creating policy to protect the unborn, I had high hopes that this book would at last begin to bridge the divide. A decade ago, in my own book, The Politics of Abortion, I joined the argument begun by writers like Marvin Olasky in his Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, that it is more effective to attempt to change the hearts and minds of people than to create divisive public policy at the federal level. I share Charles Camosy’s desire to end the abortion wars—but this war cannot end until the real war on the unborn ends. This does not mean that the two sides cannot work together—battling it out at the state level—where there is the opportunity for the greatest success. But, complex philosophical arguments on whether RU 486 is a direct or indirect form of abortion are not helpful to these conversations.

Camosy must know that we can never really “end” the abortion wars as long as unborn children are still viewed as “aggressors” or “invaders” and can still be legally aborted. Faithful Catholics know that there is no middle ground on this—the pro-life side has to prevail in any war on the unborn. It can be done incrementally but ground has to be gained—not ceded—for the pro-life side. Besides, Camosy seems a bit late to the battlefield to begin with. In many ways, he seems to have missed the fact that the pro-life side is already winning many of the battles through waiting periods, ultrasound and parental notification requirements, and restrictions on late term abortion at the state level. More than 300 policies to protect the unborn have been passed at the state level just in the past few years. The number of abortions each year has fallen to pre-Roe era levels—the lowest in more than four decade.   Much of these gains are due to the selfless efforts of the pro-life community and their religious leaders. Yet, just as victory appears possible in many more states, Camosy seems to want to surrender by resurrecting the tired rhetoric—and the unconscious violinists—of forty years ago.

While it is disappointing, it is not unexpected considering Camosy’s last book lauded the contributions of Princeton’s most notorious professor, Peter Singer—the proponent of abortion, euthanasia and infanticide. Claiming that Singer is “motivated by an admirable desire to respond to the suffering of human and non-human animals,” Camosy’s 2012 book, Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization, argues that, “Though Singer is pro-choice for infanticide, on all the numerous and complicated issues related to abortion but one, Singer sounds an awful lot like Pope John Paul II.”  In a post at New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a progressive organization led by Rev. Richard Cizik (a former lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals who was removed from his position because of his public support for same sex unions, and his softening stance on abortion) Camosy wrote that he found Singer to be “friendly and compassionate.”  Camosy currently serves on the Advisory Board of Cizik’s New Evangelical Partnership—where he has posted Peter Singer-like articles including: “Why Christians Should Support Rationing Health Care.”

One cannot know the motivations of another—we can never know what is in another’s heart so it is difficult to know why Charles Camosy wrote this book. It must be difficult to be a pro-life professor at Fordham University—a school known for dissenting theologians like Elizabeth Johnson. But, if one truly wants to advance a culture of life in which all children are welcomed into the world, it would seem that inviting Peter Singer to be an honored speaker to students at Fordham in 2012 is not the way to do it, nor would claiming that RU-486 “may not aim at death by intention.” Perhaps it is unwise to continue to critically review Camosy’s work from a Catholic perspective because it gives such statements credibility—and notoriety. But, as long as Camosy continues to claim that his writings and policy suggestions—including his newly proposed “Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act”—are “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine,” faithful Catholics will have to continue to denounce them.

Reprinted with permission from Crisis Magazine. 

Share this article

Advertisement

Customize your experience.

Login with Facebook