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VATICAN-VACCINES (UPDATED) Jul-26-2005 (1,270 words) With photo posted July 25. xxxi

Vatican says refusing vaccines must be weighed against health threats

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican urged parents to use caution when deciding not to inoculate their children against infectious diseases when so-called "ethical vaccines" are not yet available.

In a paper, the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life reaffirmed a person's right to abstain from receiving vaccines that were prepared from cells derived from aborted fetuses, but it said such a choice must be made after carefully considering whether refusing the vaccination would pose serious health risks to the child and the larger public.

"We are responsible for all people, not just ourselves," Msgr. Jacques Suaudeau, a medical doctor and official at the Pontifical Academy for Life, told Catholic News Service.

"If it is a question of protecting the whole population and avoiding death and malformation in others, that is more important" than abstaining from vaccines developed from abortions that might have occurred decades ago, he said.

The academy's paper, "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses," was based on a study of the issue resulting from a request by a Largo, Fla.-based pro-life group, Children of God for Life. In June 2003 the group asked the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a formal statement on the church's position concerning the morality of using vaccines associated with human tissue coming from abortions.

The doctrinal congregation approved of the academy's findings, which were published in Italian in the May/June edition of Medicina e Morale (Medicine and Morals), a journal put out by the bioethics institute at Rome's Sacred Heart University.

The Pontifical Academy for Life also sent an English synthesis of the same paper to Children of God for Life; the group released the synthesis to the public July 18.

Debi Vinnedge, head of Children of God for Life, told CNS that Catholics who wanted to conscientiously object to the "tainted" vaccines by refusing inoculation had been refused entry into some schools. Children are required to follow a state's immunization requirements if they wish to attend public or private schools.

Most states, however, allow for a "religious exemption" from receiving vaccines that go against a person's faith.

But because the Catholic Church lacked a "definitive statement" on the issue, Catholics were not eligible for the religious exemption, she said.

"But for the most part parents were allowed to exempt in accord with church teaching on moral conscience," she said in a July 23 e-mail.

However, without a formal position on the issue by the church, state courts and health and school officials could challenge Catholic parents when they applied for a "religious exemption" for vaccines from human cell lines derived from abortions.

When asked what groups were eligible for the exemption, Vinnedge said members of the Lutheran Church were because they have "a stronger statement" concerning the immorality of using such vaccines.

But the Vatican-approved study lacks the kind of absolutes that would give Catholics the backing they would need to be eligible for the exemption.

"The document says parents could use (the vaccines) or that they could abstain," which is "too gray," said Vinnedge in a July 21 telephone interview from Florida.

"We need a stronger statement" if Catholics are to get the exemption, she said.

Msgr. Suaudeau, who helped oversee the study, said the document "could not be changed" because it accurately reflected church teaching.

He said the study "in general supports the right of parents to not accept vaccinations" that are connected with abortion. But in particular cases, the use of morally objectionable vaccines can be morally justified according to the principle of proportionate reason and because there is a "hierarchy in morals," he told CNS.

He said the academy's study "takes a balanced stance," explaining the different forms and degrees of cooperation with evil and "the concerns about public health."

The French priest said the human cell lines used to cultivate the production of most vaccines used today come from tissue derived from two human fetuses voluntarily aborted in 1964 and 1970.

The paper said the people involved in the original abortions are guilty of cooperating with evil as well as "those who prepare the vaccines using human cell lines" coming from those abortions, "those who participate in the mass marketing of such vaccines," and "those who need to use them for health reasons."

But there are gradations of complicity and immorality of those involved, the text said.

Those who were closely involved with the original abortion and acted with the intent of ending human life acted immorally by formally cooperating with evil, the paper said.

Those who then utilize the aborted fetus cell lines to produce the vaccines are engaged in "passive material cooperation" which is equally illicit, it said.

But the doctors and parents who use the vaccines for health reasons are carrying out "a form of very remote ... material cooperation," reflecting a "very mild" immoral act, the paper said.

Msgr. Suaudeau said that because the abortions occurred some 40 years ago, using vaccines associated with those cell lines "is a very, very remote" form of cooperation with evil, so remote that it "does not indicate any moral value" when compared to the greater good derived from preventing the spread of an infectious disease.

"If the health of the child or of the whole population" is at risk, then "the parents should accept having their kid be vaccinated if there is no alternative," he said.

The Vatican study emphasized that being forced to use an unethical vaccine in no way reflected church approval of its production.

Msgr. Suaudeau said the paper urged people to lobby "and push government and health officials" to get alternative, effective vaccines on the U.S. market so Catholics would not be forced to "act against their conscience" if they are to safeguard their children's health.

Vaccines that use animal, not human, cell lines raise no moral questions whatsoever, Msgr. Suaudeau said. But two of those vaccines, one for rubella, another for hepatitis A, are not available in the United States because they still need approval from the Food and Drug Administration. So far there is no vaccine for chicken pox that does not use human cell lines.

But until ethical vaccines are available in the United States for rubella and hepatitis A, parents should also consider "the common good" when deciding whether to abstain from mandatory vaccinations, he said.

Mandatory, universal immunization against these viruses has resulted in proper disease control, Msgr. Suaudeau said.

Both he and the Vatican study warned that ongoing disease control through inoculation, even of rare but serious diseases like rubella, is key in preventing fresh outbreaks.

Even though rubella has been virtually eradicated from the United States, it is still an epidemic in some parts of the world. The rubella virus causes severe problems, even death, for a fetus in its first trimester.

An unvaccinated child "could get (the virus), not show any symptoms" and, as "a healthy carrier," pass it on to other unvaccinated people, the most vulnerable being pregnant women, said Msgr. Suaudeau.

Parents who do not immunize their children against rubella would be responsible for the malformations and subsequent abortions of malformed fetuses that might result from a pregnant women being infected by the unvaccinated child, both the study and Msgr. Suaudeau said.

In this case, the parent would be in "much more proximate cooperation with evil" than if he had accepted a morally questionable vaccine to begin with, he said.

Children and unborn children must not pay the price for "the licit fight against pharmaceutical companies" that produce immoral vaccines, said the Italian version of the study.


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