Since the very beginning of the pandemic, people have been leaning on “religious liberty” as an excuse to disregard public health guidelines they didn’t want to follow.
In that same tradition, Bishop Joseph Brennan has released a video warning faithful Catholics not to “jump on the vaccine bandwagon,” because there’s a chance that the finished vaccine will be “morally unacceptable.”
What in the world could make it “morally unacceptable” to participate in a vaccination program that could stop the spread of a highly communicable, potentially lethal disease that has altered the fabric of our society for months on end? Allow Bishop Brennan to explain:
I won’t be able to take a vaccine — I just won’t, brothers and sisters, and I encourage you not to — if it was developed with material from stem cells that were derived from a baby that was aborted or material that was cast off from artificial insemination of a human embryo. It’s morally unacceptable for us. It’s amazing how there are some theologians, Catholic theologians, who are saying that we can do this.
… To get this close to participation on a moral level in an abortion, in the taking of a human life unjustly, is too close for me, too close for comfort. There are some things, brothers and sisters, in our moral life that are black and white; they’re not gray.
As usual, the fetus deserves protection at the expense of those already born.
Not that any fetus is being harmed by the process anyway; the cells being used in most of the efforts to create a vaccine are HEK293 cells, derived from an abortion that happened in the early 1970s. Because those cells can be replicated, science could keep accessing and using them even if there was never another abortion ever again.
But for Brennan, using cells replicated from a fetus nearly 50 years dead is “close to participation on a moral level in an abortion.”
Brennan mentions the Pfizer vaccine by name, but when Los Angeles Times journalist Hayley Smith contacted Pfizer about the claim, a spokesperson said that no human fetal or embryonic cells were used at any stage in the vaccine’s development. The other vaccine that has been getting a lot of attention is the Moderna vaccine, which the conservative National Review touts as ethical.
Information compiled by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion think tank, says something slightly different. Based on the published studies, they conclude that the design, development, and production of the leading candidates for a viable vaccine involved no human stem cells whatsoever. But during the testing phase, scientists used HEK293 cells to confirm protein tests.
Surely it’s better to carry out tests on cells before injecting a vaccine into living human beings, right? Surely that would be the more “pro-life” option?
Not for Brennan. If the development of a vaccine uses cells derived from an abortion at any point in the process of development, it’s completely morally tainted, and no good can come of it, however many lives it might save.
To an extent, Brennan is in line with Vatican teaching on the subject, and he proves it by reading from Dignitas Personae, a 2008 document from our good friends at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (i.e. the Inquisition folks). As he quotes:
It needs to be stated that there is a duty to refuse to use such “biological material” even when there is no close connection between the researcher and the actions of those who performed the artificial fertilization or the abortion, or when there was no prior agreement with the centers in which the artificial fertilization took place.
But he says not a word about the caveat in the very next paragraph:
Within this general picture there exist differing degrees of responsibility. Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such “biological material.” Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.
Set aside whether objecting to stem cells from a half-century-old abortion makes any sense. Even the modern incarnation of the Inquisition acknowledges that the average person may not have very much power to bring about substantive change, and that there are circumstances under which using an allegedly tainted vaccine is the more morally correct option. It’s not hard to make a solid case that preventing the spread of a seriously debilitating, potentially lethal virus is one of those circumstances.
But Joseph Brennan has decided not to make that case. Instead, he discourages the people who look to him for guidance from trusting medical science and taking responsibility for protecting their communities.
Either he doesn’t view the virus as particularly serious, which, at this point — with hundreds of thousands dead — is just willful ignorance, or he’s willing to sacrifice other people’s lives to be holier-than-thou.
Neither option makes him much of a leader.
(Thanks to Jeremy for the link)