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The ultimate Catholic coronavirus vaccine morality explainer

Since Covid-19 vaccines began to be discussed, Catholics have raised concerns about the moral and ethical aspects of taking them. While the Vatican and the USCCB have weighed in on the subject, a lot of Catholics still have questions.

To answer those questions, The Pillar brings you The Ultimate Catholic Coronavirus Morality Explainer.™

The Pillar asked bioethicist Michael Deem to help us make sense of the vaccines and the Church’s moral teaching. He came back with a lot — answers to questions you have, and some you hadn’t thought of yet.

Read below for a basic snapshot, and then keep going for thorough answers to your questions about the morality of the vaccine:

In December 2020, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) independently issued statements on the morality of accepting COVID-19 vaccines that were developed or tested utilizing cell strains derived from the tissues of fetuses aborted decades ago.

The CDF’s Note on the Morality of Using Some Anti-COVID-19 Vaccines and the USCCB’s Moral Considerations Regarding the New COVID-19 Vaccines align in the guidance they provide to Catholics.

In sum:

  • Acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccines developed, researched, or tested utilizing fetal cell lines is morally permissible when no alternative COVID-19 vaccine is available or accessible.
  • Acceptance of these COVID-19 vaccine involves very remote material cooperation in the twofold evils of the abortions of the fetuses from whom tissue was posthumously taken to derive cell strains for medical research.
  • An action that involves remote cooperation in evil is permissible, or even encouraged, when there are grave moral reasons that are proportional to or outweigh moral badness of this cooperation.
  • The proportional moral reasons for acceptance of the vaccine are the promotion of community health and prevention of serious risk of harm, which are grounded in the fundamental moral and social principle of the common good. 
  • It is permissible to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, but those who refuse should perform additional actions that promote community health and prevention of serious harm.

While accepting the vaccine is a morally responsible action, recipients nonetheless have an obligation to protest the use of fetal cell lines in vaccine development.

The Church’s guidance has generated considerable commentary, some of it reliable, some less so.

As Bishop Ronald Gainer stated in a pastoral letter to his flock: “Some are asserting that if a vaccine is connected in any way with tainted cell lines, then it is immoral to be vaccinated with them. This is an inaccurate portrayal of Catholic moral teaching.”

Some of the confusion and resistance to the CDF and USCCB statements seems to stem from misunderstanding the nuanced and complicated moral tradition of the Church, from which the CDF and USCCB draw. This primer aims to be a reliable guide to both the CDF and USCCB guidance, and the Catholic moral tradition that informs these positions, as well as a resource for bishops, pastors, and lay ministry leaders who wish to provide guidance about the morality and science of the COVID-19 vaccines.

The focus of this primer is solely on the moral question of receiving the COVID-19 vaccines – it does not address questions related to those who produce the vaccine.

Read more at The Pillar

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