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October 22, 2020 Q & A

Vaccines Using Fetal Stem Cells

Question

I just recently learned that many vaccines used today are developed using fetal stem cells taken from aborted babies. What is the position of the OPC on this issue? In the sixth Commandment, God forbids the murder of others made in his image. The Shorter Catechism, in Q/A 69, states: “What is forbidden in the sixth commandment? The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.” Some say that more lives are saved by manufacturing vaccines in this way than by not doing so. I’m genuinely struggling with this rationale, especially in the context of the current pandemic. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Answer

I’ve been asked to respond to the query you posted to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church website.

The brief answer to your question is no, the OPC has taken no position on this issue. Outside of the Bible itself, the only theological positions we have taken are found in the Westminster Standards. I’m glad that you have already consulted them. As you have learned, however, they do not directly address this matter.

I was not aware of this issue until receiving your question. From the reading I’ve done, certain vaccines have been developed using stem cell lines cultivated from two babies aborted in the 1960s. This means that vaccine production is not dependent on current or ongoing abortions. Rather, vaccine development and testing has used materials which continue to be grown and cultivated from material originally removed from aborted children.

The Shorter Catechism properly teaches us that the sixth Commandment does not allow for the unjust taking of life. It is unjust to take an innocent life. While one person may willingly sacrifice himself for the good of another, an unborn infant does not have the ability to make that choice. Even if it could be proven that the death of an infant would save the lives of other persons, no one has the right to impose that decision on another person—in this case, an infant. Therefore, we must reject the argument “Some say that more lives are saved by manufacturing vaccines in this way than by not doing so.”

However, that is not the ethical dilemma before us because we are not being asked to perform abortions in order to develop new vaccines. Since the vaccines are developed from existing fetal stem cell lines, the ethical dilemma can be put this way (borrowing the Shorter Catechism’s language): “Would using this vaccine tend toward other abortions occuring for the purpose of creating medical technologies?”

Sadly, I do not have a clear answer. I suspect that because more recent developments in stem cell research have made the use of fetal stem cells less necessary; and because their use is politically controversial, many in the field have moved or are moving away from using them. However, I can’t help but recognize, as you seem to do, that there is some degree of complicity in using these vaccines, even if the shot one receives is decades distant from the original elective abortion. If one were to refuse a vaccine on this ground, I think one should clearly state one’s reasons, since the facts of these vaccines’ origins are not widely known.

There may be a clearer answer from a Christian bioethicist who ponders such questions. As I find myself once again lacking wisdom, I am thankful that my relationship with the Lord does not depend on my perfect understanding, but on Christ’s completed work. With you, I pray his Spirit will continue to illumine the Scriptures for us, so we might better apply them to the problems which confront us in these trying times. I am thankful you desire a conscience rightly formed by God’s Word and pray you will also find your comfort in Christ’s cross.

 

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