Catholic bishops in Ireland have stressed that “safe and effective vaccination is an essential in preventing” Covid-19 as they encouraged Catholics to support vaccination programmes, “not only for their own good, but for the protection of life and the health of those who are vulnerable and for the common good of humanity”.
The bishops said it is “encouraging” that a number of vaccines for Covid-19 are at an advanced stage of preparation and are likely to be available for use in the country in the near future.
However, they noted that questions have arisen that human foetal cell-lines, which have their origins in abortions carried out in the past, are used in the development and production of some of the vaccines for Covid-19.
They assured the faithful that “if a more ethically acceptable alternative is not readily available to them, it is morally permissible for Catholics to accept a vaccine which involves the use of foetal cell-lines, especially if the potential risk to life or health is significant, as in the case of a pandemic”.
“Refusal to accept a vaccine could contribute to significant loss of life in the community and especially among those who are most vulnerable. This reality must inform any judgement of conscience,” they said.
“We reaffirm the consistent teaching of the Church that abortion is always gravely immoral. The Church has always made a distinction, however, between formal (deliberate) involvement in an immoral act and material involvement, which may be incidental and remote. The decision of those who decide to accept vaccines which have had some link with foetal cell-lines in the past does not imply any consent on their part to abortion.”
Noting that many of the vaccines currently being developed do not depend for their design or production on foetal cell lines, the bishops stress that Catholics should continue to advocate for the availability of ethically-developed vaccines.
“In that way they bear witness that biomedical research should always be conducted in a manner which is consistent with respect for life and for human dignity,” they say.
“Access to healthcare is a fundamental human right. The Church, while respecting intellectual property rights, believes that essential medicines, including vaccines, should be made available on the basis of need rather than on the basis of capacity to pay.
“This position is consistent with the TRIPS agreement of the WTO, which permits national governments to arrange for the manufacture of essential pharmaceuticals, for domestic use and for the use of poorer countries, even without the consent of patent owners.”
Their comments come after the UK became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine for widespread use earlier this month, with grandmother Margaret Keenan becoming the first person in the world to receive this particular vaccine outside of a clinical trial.
The roll out of the mass Pfizer/BioNtech vaccination plan came as the Catholic bishops of England and Wales acknowledged the current debates concerning the use of the vaccines, including those questioning the use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine “since it has been developed from cell-lines originating from the cells of an aborted foetus in 1983”.
However, Bishop Richard Moth, Chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’ Department of Social Justice, said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Academy of Life have expressed the view that one may in good conscience and for a grave reason receive a vaccine sourced in such a way, provided there is a sufficient moral distance between the present administration of the vaccine and the original wrongful action.
“In the Covid-19 pandemic, we judge that this grave reason exists and that one does not sin by receiving the vaccine,” said Bishop Moth.
Picture: A nurse is inoculated with a coronavirus vaccine. (CNS photo/Bryan Woolston, Reuters).