Fact Check: The Catholic Church permits vaccines derived from aborted human fetuses

Can Catholics receive a religious-based vaccination exemption?


Jerome Kunkel, a senior attending The Assumption Academy, sued the Northern Kentucky Independent District Board of Health after it banned students without chickenpox immunity from attending school and extracurricular activities during an outbreak.

Kunkel based his legal claim on his religion, saying ‘he is opposed to those that used aborted fetal cells in their manufacture, including the chickenpox vaccine.’

Religion influences on vaccination decisions are often used by parents as an excuse to avoid the vaccination of their children.

Many parents and high school students have successfully sought religious exemptions to vaccines derived from aborted fetal tissue. 

But, the Catholic Church says these vaccines are “morally acceptable”. 

In fact, in a June 2005 Statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life under the approval of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the right to abstain under proper conditions is clearly upheld. 

Moreover, the Catholic Church has upheld the right to follow one’s properly formed Moral Conscience. It is considered a primordial right which cannot be interfered with, especially in religious matters. 

The following Church statements explain this right, which is fully supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican. 

From the point of view of prevention of viral diseases such as measles, mumps, chickenpox, and hepatitis A, it is clear that the making of effective vaccines against these diseases represents a "milestone" in the secular fight of man against ‘contagious diseases’.

However, as the same vaccines are prepared from viruses taken from the tissues of fetuses that had been infected and voluntarily aborted, and the viruses were subsequently attenuated and cultivated from human cell lines which come likewise from procured abortions, they do not cease to pose ethical problems.

The need to articulate a moral reflection on the matter in question arises mainly from the connection which exists between the vaccines mentioned above and the procured abortions, from which biological material necessary for their preparation was obtained. 

The first fundamental distinction to be made is that between Formal and Material cooperation. 

Formal cooperation is always morally illicit because it represents a form of direct and intentional participation in the sinful action of another person. Formal cooperation is carried out when the moral agent cooperates with the immoral action of another person, sharing in the latter's evil intention. 

On the other hand, when a moral agent cooperates with the immoral action of another person, without sharing his/her evil intention, it is a case of Material cooperation. 

Material cooperation can sometimes be illicit, but when immediate material cooperation concerns grave attacks on human life, it is always to be considered illicit, given the precious nature of the value in question. 

A further distinction made in classical morality is that between active (or positive) cooperation in evil and passive (or negative) cooperation in evil, the former referring to the performance of an act of cooperation in a sinful action that is carried out by another person, while the latter refers to the omission of an act of denunciation or impediment of a sinful action carried out by another person, insomuch as there was a moral duty to do that which was omitted. 

Passive cooperation can also be formal or material, immediate or mediate, proximate or remote. Obviously, every type of formal passive cooperation is to be considered illicit, but even passive material cooperation should generally be avoided. 

As regards the diseases against which there are no alternative vaccines which are available and ethically acceptable, it is right to abstain from using these vaccines if it can be done without causing children, and indirectly the population as a whole, to undergo significant risks to their health. 

However, if the latter are exposed to considerable dangers to their health, vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may also be used on a temporary basis. 

The moral reason is that the duty to avoid passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is a grave inconvenience. 

Moreover, in such a case, a proportional reason, in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favoring the spread of the pathological agent, due to the lack of vaccination of children. 

To summarize, the conclusion of the 2005 study uses very strong language, stating that if anyone is exposed to measles, mumps, or rubella from children who were not immunized with the MMR vaccine, the negligent parents would be morally responsible for any harm those people suffered. 

On the matter of the morality of using the MMR vaccine, the Catholic Church, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Academy for Life, has spoken,  and quite clearly.