With the approval of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine against the COVID-19 virus, concerns have been raised by some religious leaders that it was developed using cell lines from fetuses aborted decades ago. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference has recommended that Catholics not accept this vaccine, despite the statement by Pope Francis that it is the duty of Catholics to prevent the spread of the virus by vaccination. However, in the medical field recent advances in drug development, cancer treatment, biologic therapy and other vaccines rely on cell lines derived from some of the same cell sources. Should we discard all of these therapies which have saved innumerable lives?
In considering this, we have to realize that many of the benefits we enjoy today have come to us through means we now consider evil. A large number of medical discoveries made in the 19th and 20th century resulted from studies performed on poor and minority peoples without their knowledge or consent. Should we discard this knowledge and the treatments which resulted?
Our history as a nation tells us many of our institutions have had origins tainted with evil. Many prestigious universities owe their founding to money made in the slave trade or by wealthy slaveholders. Lands taken from indigenous peoples were used to fund systems of land grant educational schools while destroying their culture. Much of the philanthropy of the 19th and 20th centuries came from fortunes made by exploiting the labor of the poor and of immigrants. Are we willing to dismantle our corporations, our universities, our cultural institutions because of their tainted origins?
Immunization against COVID is the most important thing we can do now to prevent spread of this disease which threatens the lives of our fellow humans, and to prevent the dangerous mutations which will threaten millions more. This is where we can do some good for our world, no matter how we regard the origins of the vaccine.
Martha J. Willi, MD