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Vaccines: Today’s Controversy

ve8QAd   |   July 01, 2001

Nearly every week I receive one or more inquiries about whether or not a good pro-life person should use vaccines made from human embryonic tissue. If, in fact, such vaccines are made from aborted baby tissue, then should we, or can we in good conscience give those vaccines to ourselves and to our children?

This is certainly a question that has dogged many, many people. I’’m sure I don’’t have the final definitive answer to it, but I have arrived at a workable answer and reasonable peace of conscience.

If each batch of vaccine necessitated the destruction of new embryonic human lives, then we should not use them. But this is not the case. These vaccines come from human cell cultures, some of which are nearly three decades old. Let me explain.

Yes, the original cells were obtained from an aborted baby. But, let’’s say this was 20 or 30 years ago, which, in fact, is the case with some vaccines. We can take skin cells from a living person and put them in a culture media, where they will replicate and reproduce themselves forming more new skin cells. We call this a cell culture. It’s much like the original bit of yeast, way back when, that was used to make bread. Perhaps that bakery is still using the original yeast culture, for it continues to replicate itself in generation after generation. So it is with human cell cultures.

The fact, then, is that in most vaccines made from human cell cultures, these vaccines are made from cells that hundreds, maybe thousands of cell generations ago did originate from an abortion. The present cells that are being used, however, are so distanced from that original abortion victim that a significant body of theologic opinion holds that these no longer bear a close enough relationship to that event long ago. Accordingly, their use in a vaccine today no longer carries any moral stigma.

This is not a unanimous opinion. There are some who would say that this still does carry a moral stigma and people should judge for themselves. I, for one, am comfortable with this distancing and find no overriding moral problem using these vaccines.

Use Them at All?
When I was a small boy in the 20s and 30s, my dad was a country doctor and his office was right next to our home. I can still hear the tragic, wrenching coughs of small children—babies with whooping cough, and some of them died.

When a physician myself, I was aware that whooping cough vaccine sometimes injured the child, but the memory of so many more helpless infants overrode the risk. Also, in World War I, thousands of soldiers died of Tetanus. When I served in World War II, we had vaccine and no soldiers died.

As a generalization, vaccines have saved thousands, even millions of lives. Vaccines have protected the human race from much illness. The agony of polio, rubella, measles and chicken pox that many of us went through as kids, is not necessarily going to be a burden to today’s generation. I know of one case of chicken pox encephalitis that totally disabled a small child, who remained in a vegetative state until death. And so, even chicken pox isn’t a harmless illness, and if we have a vaccine that stops it – a vaccine that proves to be safe, effective and long lasting – then I for one will certainly be on the side of supporting its use.

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