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Polish bishops’ bioethics committee urges Catholics not to choose the most abortion-tainted vaccines

If possible, avoid the controversial AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson shots, the bishops strongly advised.
Fri Apr 16, 2021 - 6:42 pm EST
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WARSAW, Poland, April 16, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — The Polish Bishops’ expert bioethics committee has stated that Catholics should avoid using the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines if they can. 

“It is true, and this is a very serious issue, that the cell lines came from an abortion,” said a geneticist on the committee. 

According to Polish Catholic magazine Niedziela (“Sunday”), the moral advice was offered during a livestreamed online meeting from the Secretariat of the Polish Bishops Conference in Warsaw. The meeting was led by Conference of Polish Bishops spokesman Fr. Leszek Gęsiak, SJ. 

Gęsiak stated that the first positive effects of the use of COVID-19 vaccines had become apparent, but also that there are doubts about the moral and ethical nature in which some of the vaccines had been prepared. 

The priest reminded listeners that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had already made a statement regarding the morality of the vaccines, both in the way they are distributed and in the way they are made. Shortly afterward, the Polish Bishops Conference had issued their own statement.  

“However, the situation is constantly evolving,” said the chair of the committee, Bishop Józef Wróbel. “We have increasing numbers of vaccines approved for the market." 

“We know more and more about them, particularly from the medical point of view,” he continued. 

“Therefore, it seemed necessary to clarify certain questions very much concerned with the vaccines specifically.” 

Committee member Fr. Piotr Kieniewicz, MIC, a moral theologian, said that some vaccines were morally acceptable, whereas others were not.  

“We can choose between vaccines that were created in a fair manner, and those that were contaminated by abortion,” he said. 

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The experts of the bioethics committee had not felt that there were serious ethical concerns with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because cell lines derived from the tissue of aborted babies were not used in their actual production. However, they objected to the Oxford-AstraZeneca and  Johnson & Johnson vaccines on the grounds that these inoculations were based on technology that uses the cells of aborted children.  

“It cannot be said that the cells are present in the preparation itself, and the production process does not require a continued supply of these cells,” stated another member of the committee, geneticist Dr. Andrzej Kochański.

“However, it is true, and this is a very serious issue, that the cell lines come from an abortion.” 

Kochański explained that the cells from the first line, known as HEK 293, were “most probably” obtained from an abortion performed in 1973. The cell lines for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine came, without a doubt, from the retina of an 18-week-old child aborted in 1985.

Surprisingly, the geneticist seemed to apologize for the use of such cell lines, saying they were very well-researched and that researchers, under pressure to produce coronavirus vaccines, did not have a “serious alternative.” 

He expressed a hope that in the future it will no longer be necessary to use cell lines derived from fetal tissue but also said that such cell lines are currently the basis of biomedical research.

Fr. Kieniewicz focused on the ethical and pastoral issues, saying the bishops were often asked whether or not it was just to use vaccines that came about because babies were aborted. 

“For people who object to the killing of the unborn child, this is an extremely serious matter because, in the understanding of the Catholic Church, it is one of the most serious transgressions, threatened with canonical punishments,” he said.

This concern had given rise to questions about whether or not it would be a sin to use either the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and these questions being fielded by pastors.  

It was recommended by the committee that Catholics reject these vaccines in favor of the new mRNA technology vaccines, like those created by Pfizer and Moderna. However, Bishop Wróbel said Catholics who aren’t given a choice of vaccine or are obligated by their profession to administer them do not incur moral guilt from using the more obviously abortion-tainted vaccines.

“According to the position of the Magisterium of the Church, the exceptional permissibility of these vaccines stems from the fact that receiving them is neither a direct participation in abortion nor an acceptance or enforcement of it; the cell lines used in the production were not made to order (for the COVID-19 vaccine),” he said.

The bishop explained that the relationship between the aborted children and the vaccines was not a “formal relationship,” which would mean that the babies had been aborted to produce the vaccines, rendering the vaccines absolutely unacceptable for use.

Rather, it was a material relationship, meaning that that vaccine was not the cause or the intent of the abortion and that the vaccine’s only link with the abortion was the biological material in its production.

The committee stressed, however, that Catholics should use these abortion-tainted vaccines only if necessary to protect their life and health, and the health of those who might be harmed by coming into contact with an unvaccinated person. However, Catholics should strive to take only a “just” vaccine. 

“If, however, this alternative does not exist, we have the duty to demand that such an alternative be created,” Kieniewicz said.

The overall philosophy of the bioethics committee of the Conference of Polish Bishops was very similar to the statement produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in December. It stated that “when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available (…) it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.” The CDF considers that the “cooperation” with the evil, that is, the relationship between people who use a vaccine that was developed through material obtained from an abortion and the actual evil of abortion, is “remote.” 

Although normally people should avoid having to anything at all, no matter how remote (“passive material cooperation”) to do with such great an evil as abortion, the moral obligation to do so does not apply during a pandemic, the CDF decided. 

“The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent — in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19,” it wrote.  

“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 CDF also stressed that use of the vaccine should not be seen as a “moral endorsement” of using cell lines developed from aborted babies. At the same time, it enjoined those who opted not to use abortion-tainted vaccines to be careful not to contract and spread COVID-19. 

“Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent," the CDF wrote. 

“In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.”

Scientists disagree on whether or not the COVID-19 vaccines are actually effective, and thousands of people in the United States who have been fully inoculated against the virus have nevertheless less fallen ill. 


  abortion, astrazeneca covid-19 vaccine, catholic, congregation for the doctrine of the faith cdf, covid-19 vaccine, johnson & johnson, moderna, pfizer, polish bishops

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