Malaysian Catholic bishops okay Covid vaccines – but Church’s anti-abortion stand remains

Malaysian Catholic bishops okay Covid vaccines – but Church’s anti-abortion stand remains

FEB 8, 2021: Catholic Bishops in Malaysia say it is acceptable for local Catholics to receive the Covid-19 vaccination because of the seriousness of the pandemic in the country. However, the bishops say that this decision does not “constitute formal cooperation with abortion”. (See below for salient points.)

This message was relayed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia in a pastoral letter dated Feb 4, 2021. (See related story).

The bishops singled out scientists, researchers and decision-makers, saying the onus was on them to make available ethically obtained cell-lines and other products. “They have a higher degree of responsibility in this context. Even though their connection to the original wrongdoing may somewhat be distant, as they are the ones actually using the cell-lines for all kinds of research (not just vaccines), they are a key part of the system that could perpetuate demand for such products.”

“The Church teaches that those in such positions have a duty to refuse the use of such material in their work and research, as a witness to the value of life. Their position is very different from end-users in the general population, who are only receiving the final vaccine in specific circumstances and are not in a position of responsibility to choose what biological material to use for research and production.”

These are the salient points from the pastoral letter regarding its stand on the vaccine.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine being derived from aborted foetuses?
1. Foetal cell lines are biological products developed from cells taken from foetus. They are not the same as cells/ tissue taken directly from foetus.
2. Foetal cell lines act as “biological soil” for the vaccines to be tested against to see if the vaccines are effective.
3. The original cells of the foetus no longer exist.

What does the Church say about using such cell lines for vaccine production?
1. Some of the most commonly used foetal cell-lines have been around for decades.
2. But this does not mean that we should be indifferent or that we condone the original wrongdoing.
3. The Church calls on scientists, researchers and decision makers to turn to ethically obtained cell-lines or other such products.

What does the Church say about the moral permissibility of ordinary people (i.e., not scientists or decision makers) to use such vaccines that make use of foetal cell lines?
1. We may be vaccinated even if the vaccine was derived from or tested on foetal cell lines.
2. Should we benefit from past wrongdoing? – this is the question.
3. Our connection with the past wrongdoing is so remotely distant. So, it is morally acceptable to use a vaccine using foetal cell-lines when no other alternatives are available. If there is an alternative vaccine, that is completely free from any morally compromised cell lines that is always preferred.

What about the use of the new COVID-19 vaccines?
1. Some of these vaccines may not be completely free from any connection to morally compromised cell lines.
2. However, the reasons to accept the COVID-19 vaccines are sufficiently serious to justify their use.
3. Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine could be understood as an act of charity and solidarity toward the other members of our community – part of our moral responsibility for the common good.
4. Vaccines can be used in good conscience knowing that this does not constitute formal cooperation with abortion.
5. Use of these vaccines must not de-sensitise us or weaken our determination to oppose the evil of abortion itself and the subsequent use of foetal cells in the field of research.

Do I have the right not to be vaccinated on the grounds of “conscience”?

Yes. The moral principle is that it is not only our duty to protect our own health, but also to pursue the common good. Right now, the common good is to recommend vaccination to protect the weakest and most exposed.

The full version (pastoral letter) is here.

Vatican came up with the document Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines on Dec 21, 2020 which says: (edited) “… vaccination is not a moral obligation and that it must be voluntary. The morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good. In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed. Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent. In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.” (added at 10am Malaysian time on Feb 8)