American Life League: Vaccines and Embryonic Stem Cell Products – What’s a Catholic to Do?

What is a Catholic Supposed to Do?

On the heels of  American Life League’s Celebrate Life Magazine publishing an article regarding vaccines derived from aborted fetal  tissue in the July-August issue, came President Bush’s article in the OP/ED section of the NY Times newspaper in which he used the vaccine issue as a precedent to justify his decision on embryonic stem cell research.  The NCCB\USCC was quick to respond, but their statement has caused even greater confusion among Catholics.  The following clip comes  from Ed Szymkowiak, National Director, STOPP, a division of American Life League and will appear in a future issue of  Celebrate Life Magazine. 

Can Catholics licitly use medical treatments derived from embryonic stem cells?  Will Catholic hospitals provide such treatments?  Such questions are certainly on the horizon, and they are closely related to another question that has been facing Catholic parents: “Can children be given vaccines developed from aborted babies?” (See Celebrate Life, July-Aug. 2001, p. 24-25).

American Life League has received numerous calls from Catholic parents who want to know if there is an authoritative statement from Rome regarding the use of such vaccines.  As of this writing, the Church’s Magisterium has not yet spoken about this specific issue in a definitive manner.

Catholic priests and theologians have given some very well thought out opinions, but the lack of agreement among them has only added to parents’ confusion on the matter.  Parents are caught between concerns for their children’s health and the grim fact that for certain diseases there are no alternative vaccines to ones that were developed from the tissue of aborted babies.

To compound the problem, research on embryonic stem cells has been justified by pointing to opinions of certain theologians that the use of tainted vaccines is morally acceptable.  In order to justify his decision to fund research on existing stem cell lines begun by the killing of human embryos, President Bush said:

“There is a precedent. The only licensed live chickenpox vaccine used in the United States was developed, in part, from cells derived from research involving human embryos. Researchers first grew the virus in embryonic lung cells, which were later cloned and grown in two previously existing cell lines. Many ethical and religious leaders agree that even if the history of this vaccine raises ethical questions, its current use does not” (New York Times, 8/12/01).

So what can the average Catholic do about this whole mess?

First, Catholics need to let our priests and bishops know just how much moral anguish this vaccine dilemma is causing us.  One can also point out that very similar dilemmas will face families in the future if embryonic stem cell research results in medical treatments that have no equivalent ethical alternatives.

Next, and perhaps most importantly, these concerns and questions should be humbly submitted to Rome.  In 1995, The Pontifical Council For The Family issued The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality in large part because parents, and others, wrote to the Council specifically asking for a definitive statement giving guidance in the area of sexuality education.

We must now do the same regarding the use of vaccines and treatments developed from aborted fetuses or human embryos.  You can write to the President of The Pontifical Council For The Family, His Eminence Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, at Piazza S. Calisto 16, 00153 Rome, Italy.

Finally, one can join the Campaign for Ethical Vaccines aimed at getting pharmaceutical companies to develop untainted alternative vaccines.  The campaign is being led by Children of God for Life.  You can sign the petition on line at or by writing to Children of God for Life, 2130 Catalina Dr., Clearwater, FL 33764.  They will also provide free brochures that explain the history of the tainted vaccines and how doctors can order those vaccines that do, in some cases, offer alternatives.

Read the Conflicting Opinions from Church Moralists and Theologians

“When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.”