The Morality of the COVID-19 Vaccines

Janet E. Smith
December 24, 2020
Reproduced with Permission
National Catholic Register

If morally unproblematic alternatives were available, one should refuse anything produced or tested using cell lines made from aborted fetuses for the sake of honoring the inherent dignity of the aborted victim. The question remains, is it always and everywhere wrong for a person, to avail themselves of this benefit if no alternatives are available?

In spite of the fact that it is marvelous to have vaccines against the COVID-19 virus so soon, there are unfortunately reasons why some - if not many - will choose not to receive them. Some have concerns about side effects; others believe that the pandemic is over hyped and being used by evil forces to exercise social control. (Those concerns are deserving of consideration but are not the point of this essay.)

Since all the currently available vaccines made some use (either in production or testing) of fetal cells lines developed from tissues taken from babies killed in their mother's womb, most objections have to do with the possibility of being morally culpable in the evil of abortion.

Nearly all the moral authorities of the Church who have issued statements on the morality of the use of such vaccines have determined that using them would involve only remote material cooperation with the evil, a cooperation that is morally acceptable when the benefits to be gained are proportionate. The Vatican recently laid out a justification based on traditional categories of Catholic moral thought and encouraged people to receive the vaccine for the sake of the common good.

While I respect the close careful reasoning of the Vatican document and many others, I think the principle of cooperation with evil to the current COVID-19 vaccines is not applicable here, though it is a common misapplication. I (and others) believe the category "cooperation with evil" rightly applies only to actions to which one's "contribution" is made prior to or simultaneously with the action performed. To speak of contribution to a completed action is to speak imprecisely. How can I contribute to something that has already happened? How can acceptance of a benefit from a past action be a "contribution" to the action itself? I can't will that something that has been done be done or not be done. Nor can I contribute to it, though I certainly can agree with or object to that action having been done. Whether I contributed or not, I certainly should make my objections known regarding the action itself.

That fact that using vaccines from aborted fetal cell lines isn't a form of cooperation with evil doesn't mean, however, that it is morally unproblematic to use them.

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