CMDA's The Point

The Ethics of the SARS-CoV-2 Vaccines Revisited

September 15, 2021
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by Jeffrey Barrows, DO, MA (Bioethics)

In the spring 2021 edition of CMDA Today, CMDA published an article that examined the ethical basis for taking a COVID-19 vaccine. The goal of the article was to reassure CMDA members of the good reasons to utilize the COVID-19 vaccines produced in the last year. Since the article’s publication, several members have written with ongoing questions and concerns about the ethical status of the vaccines due to their association with abortion-derived fetal cell lines. The purpose of this blog post is to address those concerns. An update on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines will be addressed in the future.

Hopefully, we can all agree that the COVID-19 vaccines’ utilization of fetal cell lines from abortions generates an emotional response of revulsion and disgust. This God-given emotional response is meant to alert us to the danger of possible association with evil. However, God has also given us the capacity to reason through problems so our eventual decisions are based not just on an emotional reaction, but a mind renewed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let me first begin by clearly stating that CMDA is firmly opposed to abortion, taking the stance that life begins at fertilization. Any complicity with abortion is unacceptable to CMDA. Therefore, the major ethical question for either accepting or refusing COVID-19 vaccines is whether utilization of these vaccines constitutes complicity with the evil of abortion.

CMDA’s position statement entitled Moral Complicity with Evil lays out three separate conditions that must be satisfied to avoid complicity with evil. For the utilization of the COVID-19 vaccines to be ethical despite their association with abortion-derived fetal cell lines, all three conditions must be met.

The first condition is that the association with the past evil must be sufficiently uncertain or distanced from the original evil act. Regarding the COVID-19 vaccines and their association with abortion-derived fetal cell lines, this means there should be no evidence the original abortion was performed for the purpose of creating the fetal cell line. This includes complete absence of evidence that the original abortion was coerced in any way. Finally, there should be maximal separation between the abortion itself and the development of the fetal cell line.

Only two fetal cell lines were used in the development of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines within the United States. The first is known as HEK-293, which was used in association with the development of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The second cell line is called PER.C6, which was used in the development of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Both cell lines were created by scientists working in the lab of Dr. Alex Van der Eb.

HEK-293 stands for a human embryonic kidney cell line derived from the 293rd attempt to establish a successful immortal cell line. The tissue utilized in the development of this cell line was obtained from an abortion performed in 1972 in the Netherlands. During the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearing in 2001 to approve the medical use of this cell line, Dr. Van der Eb gave testimony regarding the development of these fetal cell lines, which can be found online.

Importantly, Dr. Van der Eb testified that the original reason for the abortion in 1972 was unknown to him. This critical testimony establishes that he had not engaged in motivating the woman to have the abortion in 1972. Additional testimony by Dr. Van der Eb documents that the HEK-293 cell line itself was created by another researcher one year later, in 1973, creating another layer of separation from the abortion itself and the subsequent development of the fetal cell line.

The PER.C6 cell line was created in 1995 from embryonic retinal tissue cultures derived from fetal tissue that came from an abortion in 1985. During this same hearing, Dr. Van der Eb testified that the abortion performed in 1985 was “…simply because the woman wanted to get rid of the fetus.” The 10-year interval between the original abortion and the fact that the PER.C6 cell line was developed by scientists other than Dr. Van der Eb once again increases the separation from the evil of abortion and the development of the fetal cell line.

If there was any evidence that even part of the motivation for either of these women to have the abortion was to establish the fetal cell lines, any subsequent use of the cell lines would constitute complicity with evil. Separation from the original evil of abortion is maximized by four different factors:

  1. Lack of association between the motivation for the abortion and the development of the fetal cell lines.
  2. One scientist collecting the original tissue and a different scientist creating the cell line.
  3. The interval between the original abortion and the development of the fetal cell lines.
  4. The subsequent decades that have passed since the original abortions.

Let me expand on this point through an example I have found helpful to illustrate this point. Imagine a 6-month-old child brought into the emergency department by his mother. Multiple skull fractures are found upon examination, and the mother admits previous child abuse by her boyfriend. Further evaluation of the baby reveals the tragedy that this 6-month-old child has no functioning brain activity. Also imagine that a six-month-old baby with a congenital heart defect is in the same hospital awaiting cardiac transplantation. Would the transplantation of this heart into the child with the congenital heart anomaly constitute complicity with the evil of child abuse? Most would say no, because of the clear separation between the evil of the abuse and the good of the transplant.

I believe the reason most Christians struggle with the utilization of these COVID-19 vaccines relates to their difficulty separating the evil of abortion from the subsequent use of the tissue from the abortions. However, careful comparison of the two scenarios reveals no difference in terms of the separation from the evil. In both scenarios, a horrendous evil has occurred. But completely separate from that evil, tissue is being utilized for good. Thus, the first condition of avoiding complicity with evil is met.

The second condition that must be met to negate any moral complicity with evil is that the action must not reward, perpetuate, justify, cooperate with or ignore the original evil. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, any utilization of a COVID-19 vaccine must not incentivize pharmaceutical companies to develop new abortion-derived fetal cell lines. Fortunately, ethical alternatives such as insect and animal cell lines have been developed that can replace abortion-derived fetal cell lines. Therefore, CMDA has actively advocated through press releases, interviews and written articles that any future development of vaccines be done in an ethically pure manner by using these ethical alternatives. This advocacy has also served to raise awareness of the use of these abortion-derived cell lines so members themselves can advocate against their future use.

The third condition that must be satisfied to avoid moral complicity with evil is that the intent of the action must be for good. In the case of the utilization of COVID-19 vaccines, this means their utilization must have some good result. It is clear from the increasing medical evidence that these vaccines are highly successful in preventing hospitalization and mortality from COVID-19. In addition, there is some evidence that utilization of the COVID-19 vaccines does decrease the spread of the SARS-Co-V2 virus. Both the decrease in hospitalization and mortality from COVID-19 and the decrease in the spread of the SARS-Co-V2 virus constitute definite goods. Therefore, the third condition for avoiding moral complicity with evil is also met.

I would be remiss if I did not briefly point out that there is a difference in the level of utilization of these abortion-derived fetal cell lines by the three vaccines currently approved for use in the United States. Specifically, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines used the HEK-293 fetal cell line in a single confirmatory step during the development of the vaccines. Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine utilize abortion-derived fetal cell lines for the ongoing production of the vaccine. However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a different type of vaccine. It utilized the Per.C6 cell line in the development of the vaccine AND ongoing production of the vaccine. I make note of this to inform members of all the facts surrounding the association of the COVID-19 vaccines and abortion-derived fetal cell lines.

If utilizing the COVID-19 vaccines constituted moral complicity with the evil of abortion, there is no question CMDA would be opposed to their use. However, as is shown by this ethical analysis, the COVID-19 vaccines may be used without engaging in complicity with the evil of the original abortions, as long as their use is accompanied by efforts to raise awareness of the evil of abortion and advocate for the ethically pure development of future vaccines. CMDA has done that for its members and will continue to do so throughout this pandemic.

Jeffrey Barrows, DO, MA (Bioethics)

About Jeffrey Barrows, DO, MA (Bioethics)

Jeffrey J. Barrows, DO, MA (Ethics), serves as Senior Vice President of Bioethics and Public Policy for Christian Medical & Dental Associations. Dr. Barrows is an obstetrician/gynecologist, author, educator, medical ethicist and speaker. He completed his medical degree at the Des Moines College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in 1978 and his residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at Doctors Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

22 Comments

  1. Avatar Dennis Sullivan, MD, MA (Ethics) on September 15, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    Dr. Barrows, thank you for this careful and systematic analysis. There is a clear beneficent intent of current COVID vaccines, coupled with the passage of time since the creation of the immortalized fetal cell lines associated with their development. These factors greatly mitigate the possible moral complicity of any Christian who receives one of these vaccines.

    May God bless us all as we search for unity in the Spirit during these difficult times.

  2. Avatar Corey Nieman on September 15, 2021 at 3:37 pm

    As it relates to good and evil…My biggest issue with this is it smacks of the opioid crisis and the way it too was incentivized and politicized, and all the gov. efforts to heal it that have been undone by this current pandemic.To me, it all leads back to big pharma and their power and influence suppressing tried and true treatments for the new experimental cocktails that don’t stop the spread, nor the symptoms, nor the aftermath. All in the name of power and control. The Lord will reveal that the same people that created this virus likely created all the COVIDS for the purposes of engineered Darwinism. As to this latest round, Frankenstein’s monster was let loose from the lab, as they simultaneously developed “the cure.” to go with it. That is what bilological warfare is and does, and leave it to China who does not value life, to be the epicenter of all these CORONA outbreaks. But make no mistake we funded it and supported it. This to me lines up exactly with evil as a trick of the enemy leading nations astray with sorcery as stated in Revelation, because we can either put our faith in God or the gov., not both.

  3. Avatar Jim Greenbarg on September 16, 2021 at 12:41 am

    Unfortunately, or fortunately, I find this a bit of ethical gymnastics to make one feel “o.k.” with submitting to the vaccine. Personally, I feel that the more “good stuff” comes as a result of using the fetal cell lines, the more it could be seen to legitimize the evil of abortion. Some of us feel potentially more complicit than others. I was very disappointed to see CMDA, Samaritan’s Purse, and other leaders in the Christian community dismiss this historical problem with the vaccine as simply not weighty enough to discount the benefits to ourselves and fellow neighbors…

    • Avatar Amy Heneisen on November 4, 2021 at 9:42 pm

      I concur, Jim. Particularly in light of information I have recently read describing the requirement for these babies to be delivered still living so that tissue could be harvested while their hearts were still beating. Meaning these babies were alive when their organs were harvested for research purposes. That knowledge has been a huge punch in the gut for me.

      • Avatar Jeffrey Barrows on November 10, 2021 at 4:24 pm

        Amy,
        I’m surprised you found documentation that proves the babies in 1972 and 1985 were alive when their organs were harvested. Could you please provide that documentation? I’m sure that would be of interest to many of our members.

        • Avatar Amy Heneisen on December 6, 2021 at 11:49 am

          Jeff,

          While I have not yet had the means or opportunity to track down every reference in this article and interview, I can see no particular reason to doubt the author’s veracity at this time. I too used to believe as you argued in your original article, thinking that the abortions involved were remote and done not for research purposes. As I just recently began reading more about the acquisition of fetal cells for research, I came to the horrible realization that the cells must be obtained from living tissue because otherwise they quickly become unusable AND I realized the ongoing use of fetal cells and tissues in a variety of vaccine and pharmaceutical research endeavors.

          https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/babies-were-aborted-alive-placed-in-fridge-to-harvest-cell-lines-used-in-some-vaccines-researcher/

          “ Acker quoted Dr. C. Ward Kischer, an embryologist and emeritus professor of anatomy from the University of Arizona College of Medicine, who stated the following regarding the cells obtained for aborted fetal cell lines: “In order to sustain 95% of the cells, the live tissue would need to be preserved within 5 minutes of the abortion […] within an hour the cells would continue to deteriorate, rendering the specimen useless.”

          Acker said that if the baby used in the production of HEK-293 “had already been dead (through a natural miscarriage), the tissue would certainly have been of no use to Mr. Graham in making a cell line after it had been stored in a freezer.”
          She speculated that the tissue from the baby used for the production of HEK-293 was likely procured by the surgical method of whole-fetus extraction, often referred to as a C-section abortion, which can include the removal of the uterus along with the living baby still inside.
          Acker quoted a 1952 study from Dr. Thomas Weller and Dr. John Enders (among others), who were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954 for their polio research involving growing cultures in various types of tissue, where they explained how “human embryonic tissues” were obtained for their experiments.

          “This material was employed in most of the experiments. It was obtained under sterile precautions at the time of abdominal hysterotomy for therapeutic indications. Embryos of between 12 and 18 weeks’ gestation have been utilized. Rarely tissues were obtained from stillborn fetuses, or from premature infants at autopsy … In the experiments on prolonged propagation of virus, three sorts of embryonic materials were used: elements of skin, connective tissue, and muscle; intestinal tissue; brain tissue,” the researchers stated.
          “Embryonic tissues were prepared in the following manner. Whenever possible the embryo was removed from the amniotic sac under sterile precautions, transferred to a sterile towel and kept at 5 C until dissected,” (bold added) they added.
          Acker then quoted from Dr. Gonzalo Herranz, Professor of Histology and General Embryology at the University of Navarra, Spain, who described how abortions must be done to obtain uncontaminated fetal material in Italian scientist Pietro Croce’s book Vivisection or Science? first published in English in 1991.

          “To obtain embryo cells, embryos from spontaneous abortions cannot be used, nor can those obtained by means of abortions performed via the vagina: in both cases, the embryo will be contaminated by micro-organisms,” wrote Herranz.
          “The correct way consists in having recourse to Caesarian section or to the removal of the uterus. Only in this way can bacteriological sterility be guaranteed. In either case, then, to obtain embryo cells for culture, a programmed abortion must be adopted, choosing the age of the embryo and dissecting it while still alive to remove tissues to be placed in culture media,” (bold added) he added.”

          I am continuing to consider the further implications of this information beyond the COVID injection situation.

          I certainly accept that other believers may reach different decisions. That is between each individual and the Lord.

          It seems, however, that now that we know this information, we may adopt a more humble approach toward those who for these reasons choose to forego particular medical therapies or procedures.

  4. Avatar Michael J McLaughlin on September 17, 2021 at 12:40 pm

    Well written, Jeff.

  5. Avatar Kevin Taylor, MD on September 21, 2021 at 7:13 pm

    Dr Barrows,
    Thank you greatly for this well thought-out and very strong ethical statement.
    I appreciate your logic and strong ethical considerations here.

  6. Avatar Lena on October 23, 2021 at 2:46 pm

    Sir:

    It saddens my heart to read your thoughts on this subject.

    In Christ’s loving Truth, I must disagree with you, because I agree with the Bible–God’s Holy Word that says: “Thou shall not murder.” I understand that to mean I should not use any type of murder: so that I can to keep my job, for the “betterment” of my health, and certainly not for my comfort.

    God’s Word also says in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”

    Did the creators and developers of the covid vaccines know they were using murdered babies? Yes. Did they care? No. Did they understand that these babies are the temple of God? Do you? If you question that they are the temple of God, re-reading the scripture above, do you want to “chance it?”

    How can you call using murdered babies this way “ethical” simply because these murdered babies were used in a “good” way? That makes absolutely no sense. Should we use all other murdered/aborted babies in a “good” way too? Would that be ethical? Would that make it okay? (This thought process lines right up with pro-abortionists.)

    The FDA reports record Dr. Van Der Eb speaking very callously about using babies cells to develop the cell lines. It’s never stated in the FDA report that he *only used one* baby. No one asked exactly how many babies he cut apart to use their cells. Should any of this be okay with anyone who says they are pro-life? God’s Word overrides “ethics” if one is *truly* a Christian.

    You say: “CMDA is firmly opposed to abortion.” Yes–unless it has to do with the “betterment” of health–or keeping your job. Then, by default, you agree with these abortions. You are speaking out of both sides of your mouth. You can’t use chopped up, murdered babies and jab them into your arm, and then say you are pro life. That, sir, is a lie.

    In the past, barbaric civilizations sacrificed their children to idols for better crops, health, fertility, etc. Is our society any better? We justify doing the same exact thing. Many agree with the sacrifice of these babies so they can stay healthy and/or keep their jobs–so they can continue their comfortable way of life. In the past we knew these societies who sacrificed people were uncivilized idol worshipers. Do we understand now what those who agree with this type of “ethics” are?

    Your example of the 6-month-olds is completely different from that of a helpless baby being ripped out of its mother’s womb, and then callously used for scientific purposes–they chopped up this human baby (or babies) to get their cells over and over again to force them to accept the virus. Repeatedly, the cells rejected the viruses. However, this “doctor” continued anyway until he was finally able to make the aborted cells work. How sick and twisted does someone have to be, to be that persistent using murdered baby cells?

    These babies were aborted decades ago–so it no longer matters. ??? Jesus died for our sins over 2,000 years ago. Does that still matter? Or does it only matter if it happened in the last year or so? How fresh does a murder/abortion have to be before we stand up and say: MURDER IS WRONG! I WILL STAND FOR THE TRUTH AS OUTLINED IN GOD’S INERRANT, AND HOLY WORD.

    I have cried many, many tears for murdered babies… 60+ million at last count… Lord have mercy…

    I am praying discernment for you and those who have accepted the lying travesty of “ethics” you outline above.

    In Christ’s service, and yes, in His love. (Jesus is Truth. And even when Truth hurts, God is love.)

    • Avatar Amy on November 4, 2021 at 9:45 pm

      Lena, how graciously yet firmly said. Thank you.

    • Avatar Jeffrey Barrows on November 10, 2021 at 4:54 pm

      Lena,
      Can I encourage you to read another post I wrote recently that speaks to the issue of tone in our dialogue? You can find it at: https://cmda.org/pandemic-priorities/. One of the commands of Jesus in the sermon on the mount was that we should treat others as we would want to be treated. How would you feel if the post you wrote was actually written to you by someone who didn’t know you? For instance, how would you feel if someone questions whether you understand that babies are the temple of the Holy Spirit? I imagine it might be hurtful.

      Since you state that you will stand for the truth, I invite you to write us at communications@cmda.org so we can see how you can help us in our ongoing efforts to advocate against abortion.

  7. Avatar Niles Canada on October 26, 2021 at 6:30 pm

    Our family cannot in good conscience agree with this position. On these grounds we could also justify the human test subjects in the Tuskegee Syphilis Studies or Dr. Josef Mengele’s research on victims prior to their deaths at Nazi death camps. Both of these examples were done for a perceived “good” cause in their respective time and place. How will time judge our current “ethics”? Will they stand the test to time or is it a slippery slope decline into the abyss of humanist reasoning? Paul exhorts believers (1 Corinthians 6) on matters contrasting the world’s ethics against God’s principles for His people as expressed in the Scriptures. The CMDA’s position as presented by Dr. Barrows lacks Scriptural grounds and closer resembles the self-proclaimed humanists values who place their ethics and morality above those of God.

    • Avatar Amy on November 4, 2021 at 9:53 pm

      Thanks, Niles. I too wish that there was greater acknowledgment of your points. Abortion is tied significantly to the pharmaceutical industry research and development. Continuing to use these products does nothing to prod the industry to look for alternatives. We only kid ourselves if we believe that new harvests aren’t being obtained from aborted babies currently, for yet other research purposes.

  8. Avatar Steven Willing MD on November 1, 2021 at 11:07 am

    Niles, there is nothing on this earth that is not contaminated by sin. Communist China is responsible for coerced abortion and genocide. It would have been impossible for you to have posted that comment without taking advantage of Chinese manufacturing.

    • Avatar Richard Ingle, MD on November 8, 2021 at 1:56 am

      I appreciate your discussion of how you ethically justify your position. I realize my decision to not be vaccinated is not mainstream. I have prayed about this as honestly as I can, and asked God if I should be vaccinated, so far answer has been no. This is hard as I may not be even able to practice, even though I had the infection from caring for infected patients. I don’t know God’s ways , but I will trust Him.
      I did have a couple of comments. The first is that although a person may be able to explain things that is their thinking process for their opinion, that may be good for them and helpful to others, but we all have to take things to God and follow His leading for us. His opinion counts most. Second, if you have justified the moral legitimacy of the vaccines, why would someone, especially a non-Christian, need to clean up vaccines to make them more acceptable. Third, if I understood your example correctly, taking a heart from a brain dead child, who will die shortly is not even close to using cells from a baby that had its whole life ahead of it if not aborted.

      • Avatar Jeffrey Barrows on November 10, 2021 at 5:05 pm

        Richard,
        I agree that each person must stand before the Lord to give an account of their life, therefore God’s opinion matters the most.

        Second, you are absolutely correct in that there is no good reason for a non-Christian to “clean up” the vaccines from the association of abortion derived fetal cell lines (ADFCL’s). That is why it is so important to advocate publicly against the future development of vaccines associated with ADFCL’s. CMDA has done that on a number of occasions and we will continue to do so with every opportunity the Lord provides.

        Regarding my example of the heart transplant, the important point is that the decision to abort or kill the baby was made separate from the action of taking the cell sample. As I clearly laid out in the article above, if there was ANY connection between the motivation for getting the abortion and the later use of the fetal cell line, than there is NO ethical justification for using those cells. It is only because there is no connection that they can be seen as two separate events. The abortion in 1972 was going to happen, regardless of whether cells would be used. Therefore, while the baby did have his/her whole life ahead, that was taken away by the decision of the mother, not the researcher.

    • Avatar Mick E. Vanden Bosch, MD on November 17, 2021 at 7:06 pm

      That comment, Dr. Willing, is embarrassing for a Christian to submit in public.

      • Avatar Steven Willing on December 2, 2021 at 2:05 pm

        I will pray for you, brother, and I hope you are safely vaccinated.
        Every needless death is a tragedy.

  9. Avatar Kurt Peters, M.D. on November 5, 2021 at 4:08 pm

    Hepatitis A, rabies, rubella and varicella vaccines are also produced via fetal cells lines. Christian Pediatricians would basically deny their Hippocratic oath, be liable for malpractice and risk loss of state licensure should they not both offer and encourage their administration for the children under their care. I totally agree that we are to fight for equally qualified alternatives to use in place of immortalized fetal cell lines. Should I have a patient needing any of such vaccines, my administration does not condone the elective abortions performed during 1972 and 1985 which produced the cell lines used in vaccine manufacturing or testing nor does it encourage current or future abortions. Thank you Dr. Barrows for your wisdom and Godly perspective.

  10. Avatar Larry Lytle, MD on November 6, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    Dr. Barrows,
    Thank you for the excellent article on the use of the three conditions to establish an ethical view.
    As practicing physicians, we don’t always get to choose between clearly either good/bad, or right/wrong, or perfect/imperfect but rather what provides the greatest good for our patients without violating God’s direct laws. This position is not relativism or humanism but rather negotiating real life issues and attempting to honor God at the same time.

  11. Avatar Jack on November 8, 2021 at 8:41 am

    Mental gymnastics at its best.

  12. Avatar Michael M. on January 14, 2022 at 1:55 am

    Why does no one ever answer the question: “Is it immoral to use the immortalized cells today?” I, for one, could never conduct an experiment on these cells, because I believe the very act of propagating them is immoral. It is desecration of a human body that has never been properly laid to rest. The cells still contain the unique information coded by God to a unique soul. They were stolen from their rightful owner by tortuous murder, with no one to give just consent to their donation. They could not have been obtained without the torture of a live human being who was them subjected to theft of their bodily remains. The tissue “dies” too quickly for miscarriages to be “as effective”. The process necessitates “fresh flesh”. But hey, I didn’t have to be there to see the dissection of a live, human being without anasthesia, and I have EVERY right to propagate the unique DNA of a human in perpetuity for profit. It will make the world a better place. Does God smile when he sees the unique DNA code of one of His creations propagated ad infinitum? Or, did God lay down principles for properly laying a human to rest? I’d love to see someone write this article defending the day-to-day use of the cells. If I can be convinced there’s nothing wrong with me having some leftover cells in my fridge from a brutally murdered person I never met, then sign me up for the vaccines.

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