In every age, the challenge of the moral man has always been navigating the secular world while remaining true to his spiritual discipline. Even among sincere and devout Christians, differences of opinion invariably arise as to what is right and what is wrong, what hews to God's Law and what does not.
Nowhere has this conflict between the secular and spiritual been more intense than in the ongoing controversies over the inoculations developed against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which in several instances were developed and tested--and for a few even manufactured--using fetal cell lines, all of which are derived from aborted unborn children.
Vaccine development has relied on cultures of cells (animal as well as human) for decades. The use of such cultures is a seemingly obvious choice when one is seeking to study viral replication in a lab setting, and to then use that knowledge to devise ways to jumpstart the human body's immune system to ward off severe infectious diseases--e.g., measles, rubella, polio, and now SARS-CoV-2 infections.
Cell cultures involve growing cells in a culture vessel. A primary cell culture consists of cells taken directly from living tissue and never sub-cultivated, and may contain multiple types of cells such as fibroblasts, epithelial, and endothelial cells.The success of these techniques is self-evident in the number of efficacious vaccines developed using them. No one can plausibly claim that cell cultures are not effective tools for biomedical research and development.
A cell strain is a cell culture that contains only one type of cell in which the cells are normal and have a finite capacity to replicate. Cell strains can be made by taking subcultures from an original, primary culture until only one type remains. Primary cultures can be manipulated in many different ways in order to isolate a single type of cell; spinning the culture in a centrifuge can separate large cells from small ones, for example. An immortalized cell line is a cell culture of a single type of cell that can reproduce indefinitely. Normally, cells are subject to the Hayflick Limit, a rule named for cell biologist Leonard Hayflick, PhD. Hayflick determined that a population of normal human cells will reproduce only a finite number of times before they cease to reproduce. However some cells in culture have undergone a mutation, or they have been manipulated in the laboratory, so that they reproduce indefinitely. One example of an immortalized cell line is the so-called HeLa cell line, started from cervical cancer cells taken in the 1950s from a woman named Henrietta Lacks. Cell lines are not used to produce vaccine viruses.
Researchers can grow human pathogens like viruses in cell strains to attenuate them – that is, to weaken them. One way viruses are adapted for use in vaccines is to alter them so that they are no longer able to grow well in the human body. This may be done, for example, by repeatedly growing the virus in a human cell strain kept at a lower temperature than normal body temperature. In order to keep replicating, the virus adapts to become better at growing at the lower temperature, thus losing its original ability to grow well and cause disease at normal body temperatures. Later, when it’s used in a vaccine and injected into a living human body at normal temperature, it still provokes an immune response but can’t replicate enough to cause illness.
When animal cells are used, there are few ethical questions that arise, for the simple reason that God entrusted stewardship over all the earth to Man.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”However, this stewardship does conspicuously NOT extend to our fellow Man. God created Man in His image, and gave to each man the power of moral choice. We are called to rule over the animal kingdom, but each man is left free to make his own choices. This is the clear inference from the closing verse of Judges:
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
Moses conveyed God's Law to the Israelites--and thus to all Mankind--but he did not convey any king or authority save God alone. That this autonomy is to be respected is made plain by the second part of the Great Commandment as taught by Jesus:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
We must love our neighbors as we are loving ourselves--and that leaves no room for any domination or imposition of one man upon any other. Thus we cannot--and God's Law makes plain that we should not--take from each other, or do violence to each other. The Ten Commandments are explicit on this point.
We cannot take, but we can give, and we can receive. Thus if a dying man wishes his body to be used for medical research after he has passed, or to have his organs donated that others might continue to live, no sin arises, because where there is consent, God's Law is not violated in such matters.
Yet we must never lose sight of the reality that the giving must be a free choice, and where there is not a free choice, we may never presuppose to use any part of a human being for any purpose, no matter how noble the intent.
Abortion is moral evil because the unborn child never consents to have life taken from him, and there can be no doubt that the unborn child is every bit the human being as a fully grown adult, from the moment of conception.
The unborn child cannot consent to his death, and likewise cannot consent to have his embryonic organs harvested and tissues used to create cell cultures, cell strains, and "immortalized" cell lines. Fetal cell cultures, strains, and lines can thus never be considered "good", because they proceed from unquestionable and undeniable evil. They are, without question, "innocent blood". All research involving the use of fetal cells is tainted by this innocent blood, and no rationalization of human lives saved can suffice to erase that taint. There is no moral calculus that justifies murder.
Fetal Cell Research Is Common
While the moral principle that we must not traffic in innocent blood is simple and straightforward, it has rarely been followed, and the popularity of fetal cell research in medicine and pharmaceutical development since the mid-20th century makes the principle seem almost quaint at first glance. The cynic might easily argue that, while abortion is evil, the research that has been done is fait accompli, and it would be foolish to therefore overlook the very real medical benefits it presents.
Far beyond the SARS-CoV-2 inoculations developed by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, even a cursory review of common medicines used today shows at least some fetal cell research. Some Catholic theologians even suggest that, if all fetal cell research is considered evil, nearly the whole of modern medicine must be discarded.
If we were to disallow all remote cooperation, we would need to reject all of modern society more than contemplative nuns. Only hermitic subsistence farmers or hunter-gathers making their own clothes and tools could be completely free from very remote cooperation in evil. I've noted before that the most logical and moral Christian response is realizing that we can't avoid all really remote cooperation in evil. In general, we should try to avoid it. However, we should not get scrupulous about it: it is one factor in a decision but should not overwhelm every other factor or lead to excessive worry.
That is a cynical argument, and it is not a moral one. Wrong is not magically transformed into right either through the passage of time or by the number of people who stand to gain tangible benefit. Moreover, it is in direct contradiction to the Apostle Paul's teaching of 1 Corinthians which I quoted at the beginning.
"Food sacrificed to idols" by another person is a demonstrable evil, and eating such food is a demonstrable remote cooperation in that evil. When we encounter such evil, we are counseled to not cooperate--to not eat--both for our own sake and for the sake of those who present such evil before us.
Wrong is wrong. Right is right. There is no overlap between the two. There can be no overlap between the two.
No matter how "remote" the evil, no matter how far removed the wrong, we are called to avoid it. We are called to be "scrupulous" about it.
Though fetal cell research may be common medical practice today, that commonality does not make it moral medical practice, not today, nor on any day.
Whither "Modern" Medicine?
Given the near ubiquity of fetal cell research, must the moral man eschew all modern medicines "for the sake of conscience"?
Certainly we must consider that possibility. The ultimate flaw in the argument that opposing all fetal cell research means abandoning all modern medicine is the implication that we should not do exactly that--that such abandonment would be at the very least irrational and, given the loss of tangible medical benefits, potentially its own moral failing. That argument presupposes that modern medicine is somehow intrinsically moral, which is an impossibility. Only God's Law itself, as the foundation of morality, can be so considered.
Must we therefore empty out our medicine cabinets and endure life's little aches and pains without the amelioration of today's analgesics? Not necessarily.
One consideration that must be remembered is that not all fetal cell research occurs during the development of a new medicine. Nor are many of our common medicines exactly new, and several predate the isolation of fetal cells and their use in medical research:
Tylenol, also knows as Paracetamol or acetaminophen, was discovered in the 1870s and first marketed in the US in 1950.
Ibuprofen’s discovery was the result of research during the 1950s and 1960s to find a safer alternative to aspirin, with a patent application filed in 1961.
Pseudoephedrine was first characterized by German scientists in 1889.
Diphenhydramine was discovered in 1943 and first marketed in 1946.
Dextromethorphan was successfully tested in 1954 and marketed in 1958.
Guaifenesin was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1952.
Food sacrificed to idols is tainted, but food not sacrificed to idols of which a portion is subsequently defiled is not tainted. The one pearl cast before swine does not defile the remainder which are retained. Medicines developed without fetal cell research are not necessarily tainted by subsequent fetal cell research.
Additionally, Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians very specifically counsels us to refrain from the obsessive search for the taint of evil. We are counseled to not scrutinize everything we are given to determine if it is tainted by evil--but if that taint is revealed to us we are clearly counseled to reject the tainted gift. Whenever we encounter evil, no matter how remote, we are called to renounce that evil, no matter how discomfiting the renunciation, but not until we encounter that evil.
Thus we are never called to obsessively research every medicine and therapy in our medicine cabinet, or prescribed to us, to verify it is free from all taint. We are not called, as some would suggest, to reject everything modern and retreat to the hermitic life of cloistered nuns. We are called to address all that is placed before us with such knowledge as we possess at the time, and with such knowledge to reject all that is evil and violate's God's Law.
My body, My Choice; Your Body, Your Choice
The Apostle Paul also counsels in Romans that we should not be quick to judge the moral choices of another. We should not presume to know more than another, nor be quick to erect new challenges and difficulties in making good and moral choices--life already presents those in abundance!
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
We should listen to the concerns of others, be respectful of the reasoned choices of others, and never presume that our choices are inherently superior to theirs. We should not, for example, belittle someone who is immunocompromised and elects to receive a SARS-CoV-2 inoculation. Neither should we mock someone who, knowing the association between the inoculation and abortion, rejects such medicine even if medical evidences suggest he would benefit from it.
We should hope and pray that everyone chooses rightly and righteously, but we must all remember that only God can judge what is right and righteous. We must remember that each of us can only choose for ourselves alone, and never for anyone else, and that the only clear moral stance is to ensure that all of us are free to make their choices in the sanctity of their own mind and their own conscience.
The practical moral stance can be succinctly summarized thus: My body, my choice; your body, your choice.
Every other position is wrong.