Published On: Wed, Mar 15th, 2017

Vaccines, aborted fetal tissue and the Christian

I recently did an interview with the creator of the WI-38 cell strain, Leonard Hayflick, PhD on the Outbreak News This Week Radio Show.

Who is Dr Hayflick? In 1962, Leonard Hayflick created a cell strain from an aborted fetus obtained from Sweden, where abortion was legal in 1962.


The woman was four months pregnant and already having several children, she decided she didn’t want another one.

The lungs of the aborted child were shipped from Sweden to Philadelphia where Hayflick created the now famous cell strain.

The abortion was not done for the purpose of Hayflick’s research, nor did he induce the abortion. They were preferable for creating this cell strain due to less possibility of viral exposure than adult cells.

The cells have survived and have been used for the development of many lifesaving vaccines then and now. In fact, a recent study published in AIMS Public Health estimates that vaccines developed from this strain and its derivatives prevented an estimated 4.5 billion cases of disease and saved more than 10 million lives globally and Nearly 200 million cases of polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, adenovirus, rabies and hepatitis A — and approximately 450,000 deaths from these diseases — were prevented in the U.S. alone between 1963 and 2015.

To make a long story short, because the vaccines were developed using the WI-38 cell strain that originated from aborted fetal tissue, many Christians have struggled with this issue throughout the decades.

Just 18 months ago, a New York mom, a Christian, won the right to refuse a vaccine developed using aborted babies’ tissue, based on her religious beliefs.

In her petition for exemption she wrote, “Abortion is clearly a mortal sin and is an abhorrent act to any Christian. The vaccine manufacturers’ use of aborted fetal cells in its products and research means that I cannot associate with them or support them financially (by buying their products), for such support would make me complicit to their sin.”

I respect her convictions and as a born-again believer, I understand the moral struggle. However, I look at it a little different and I found two writings that spell out my thoughts on this issue better than I could write myself and I want to share their analysis.

The Got Questions Ministries writes:

Some people worry about the fact that some vaccines are grown in cell cultures that were originally obtained from human fetuses. Viruses require a living host in which to grow, and vaccine manufacturers prefer human cells because some viruses can only grow in certain cells, and other viruses that occur in animal cells could harm people. Research is currently underway to develop molecular tools that will allow vaccine production without the use of live host cells. Currently, the human cell strains used to produce some vaccines can be maintained for long periods of time in a laboratory setting and can reliably support the growth of viruses that infect humans. Vaccines developed from these strains have been proven safe for humans. Two different strains of human diploid cell cultures made from fetuses have been used extensively for vaccine production for decades. WI-38 came from lung cells from a female fetus of 3-months gestation and MRC-5 was developed from lung cells from a 14-week-old male fetus. Both fetuses were intentionally aborted, but neither was aborted for the purpose of obtaining cells for viral culture. The cellular biologists who made the cell cultures did not induce the abortions. These two cell strains have been growing under laboratory conditions for more than 35 years. These cell cultures have been used to prepare hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines, preventing millions of cases of chicken pox, rubella, rabies, and hepatitis A.

Rubella virus typically causes a mild illness in most children, but it can severely damage the developing fetus of a pregnant woman who becomes infected. The virus that led to the only rubella vaccine available in the United States came from tissues obtained at the time of an abortion performed on a rubella virus-infected mother. The abortion was not conducted in order to isolate the virus, but rather because the mother and the fetus were infected with wild rubella virus that posed a risk of major birth defects. Since that wild strain of rubella virus (known as RA27/3) was isolated, it has been grown in the laboratory, with no need to obtain additional cells from aborted fetuses to sustain the supply of attenuated rubella viruses used to manufacture additional batches of rubella vaccine for the future.

Before widespread use of the rubella vaccine, there were hundreds of thousands of cases of rubella in the United States and more than 800 cases of congenital rubella per year. As a consequence of the rubella epidemic of 1963—1964, it is estimated that there were 20,000 infants born with congenital defects, 6,250 spontaneous abortions and 5,000 induced abortions due to severe birth defects. In 2001, the CDC reported just 3 babies born with congenital rubella syndrome. Thus, the RA27/3 rubella vaccine has prevented many thousands of spontaneous and induced abortions by protecting pregnant women from infection.

Christians should continue to encourage pharmaceutical companies to seek alternatives to the development of vaccines linked with human fetuses. However, in the absence of viable alternatives, these vaccines may be utilized to prevent not only serious risks to children but also as a public health measure to prevent the inadvertent spread of harmful viruses to pregnant women, with the consequent threat of birth defects and spontaneous miscarriages.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention piggy-backs on the former statement:

Knowing that these vaccines are safe and have saved millions of lives through their use, what are we to do with the history of how they have been manufactured?

Clearly, the process by which these vaccines are made is not ethically ideal.

Therefore, we should continue to advocate for use of alternatives when available and for the development of future vaccines to be carried out by other means.

The key consideration in whether using currently available vaccines is licit or immoral is whether there is material cooperation with the evil act of abortion. If the abortion was conducted in order to harvest tissues that were to be used for the vaccine, then it would clearly be immoral. But in the case of the vaccines listed above, the abortion was carried out for other reasons and the tissue was acquired post-mortem for the purpose medical research.

To determine the morality of using the tissue, it is helpful to compare it to another situation: the use of organs from a person who has been murdered. If a doctor were to offer to transplant a kidney or heart from the murder victim into a Christian, we would likely not have any objection. The primary concern would be whether the victim consented to organ donation prior to their death. But no one would say the Christian who received the organ was morally responsible in any way for the murder. Nor should we be overly concerned with the “slippery slope” of people being murdered in order to expand the number of organ donations. (If we saw evidence of that happening, however, we should change our objection.)

Currently, the use of the vaccines is not increasing the number of abortions that are being carried out every year. So the question is merely whether accepting the vaccine would be cooperating with the killing of the child in the 1960s. For a number of reasons, we would argue that is it not. The primary reason being that this situation is morally analogical to the case of the murder victim. For this reason we believe the use of the vaccines is justifiable based on the fact that we cannot change the way the cell cultures were obtained, there are no available alternatives, and the effectiveness of the vaccines as a means of preserving life and preventing suffering is clear.

We certainly respect the opinion of Christians who would disagree with our reasoning on this issue. However, we would add that a parent who refused to have their child vaccinated in order to avoid the connection—however remote—to the cooperation with abortion, is morally responsible for the outcome of that choice. If their child were to get sick and/or die because of the rejection of the vaccine, they would be morally responsible.

Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world where it is almost impossible to do good without some indirect connection to an act of evil. As Christians we should strive to avoid cooperating with evil and prevent it from occurring in the future (e.g., we should oppose the making of new vaccines using the ethically tainted tissue), but we should not risk the lives of our children in order to avoid a remote connection that is tangentially related to an evil act.

There are helpful and strategic ways we can advocate for pro-life issues. Neglecting the use of something so inherently pro-life based on its history is not one of them.

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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