A Vaccine That Infects

“A Vaccine That Infects?”
February 1996, pages 43-45

(Excerpts from the article on the chickenpox vaccine)

For decades now, vaccines have been produced by using fetal cell lines, and Merck’s Varivax is no exception. A cell line, according to Dr. Chris Kahlenborn, a Pittsburgh physician, “is a group of cells taken from an animal or human being and put on a petri dish. You usually have to add mitogens – chemicals that stimulate their division.” The cells divide again and agina, and the resulting cultures are kept in stock at the American Type Cultrue Collection, a nonprofit, private organization in Bethesda, Maryland, which provides them to researchers.

The abortions that produced the material for the two cell lines WI-38 and MRC-5 were, according to Dr. Shaw, performed “under medically legitimate circumstances.” He insists that it is incorrect to “draw a cause-and-effect relationship between abortions and vaccine manufacturers… None of the vaccine manufacturers had anything to do with these abortions,” he maintains.

But Dr. Kahlenborn, medical consultant for People Concerned for the Unborn Child, thinks that “each time cells are used from an aborted child, it gives the abortion industry one more ‘reason’ for proclaiming the benefits of abortion.”

It is not morally permissible to reap the research benefits from a deliberately induced abortion without, in some sense, being an accomplice to that abortion, according to Dominican Father Albert Moraczewski, of the Pope John XXIII Center for Medical-Moral Research in Braintree, Massachusetts.

Benefiting from a fetal cell line like MRC-5 “involves a complicity with the induced abortion from which the cells were obtained,” he added. “We could grant that the use of cell lines from induced abortions is several steps away from the abortion itself,” he admitted, but that doesn’t break “the chain of complicity.”

When it comes to using a cell line from an aborted baby, researchers “know the source of the tissue – unless they deliberately blind themselves to it” said Father Moraczewski, editor of ETHICS AND MEDICS. “It doesn’t appear spontaneously in a lab dish.” Turning an abortion into a vaccine, he concluded, means “being an accomplice to the act of the abortion.”

Countered Dr. Shaw, who was on the team that developed the vaccine: “I don’t buy that at all.” The abortions behind the MRC-5 and WI-38 cell lines, he said, “would have taken place regardless.”

By this reasoning, however, one might also justify using tissue from Auschwitz victims – whose deaths would have taken place regardless – for medical research.

The British bishops have already had to deal with this moral dilemma. In 1994, the United Kingdom’s department of health decided to vaccinate 5- to 16-year-olds with a rubella vaccine developed from MRC-5.

In the end, the bishops decided that the judgment is left to the individual parents. “It becomes a matter of prudence.”

But the world has seen medicine that sucks life from the death of innocents before. “Anyone who receives medical treatment for hypothermia,” the (British) document said, “is likely to benefit from knowledge gained from wicked experiments carried out by Nazi doctors.” Of course there is a world of difference between the two cases.

The British document said, “They (the researchers) did not require that the cell line they used should come from an aborted baby.”

Then who DID demand that cell lines be developed from the tissue of aborted babies? Why couldn’t a researcher develop a vaccine with a cell line originated from a spontaneous abortion – a miscarriage? The existence of such a vaccine could free doctors and their patients from the moral risk of complicity in abortion.

“In principle you could,” Dr. Shaw, who helped develop a vaccine based on WI-38 and MRC-5, responded, “but in practice you couldn’t …a spontaneously aborted fetus is immediately suspect. There is a REASON for a spontaneous abortion.” Researchers are looking for cell lines that are free of any physical defects; a miscarriage in itself is a sign of some medical weakness.

But the defect that causes the miscarriage is not always the “fault” of the fetus, Dr.Kahlenborn points out. The medical problem may be within the mother’s body; the unborn child could be completely healthy. (For example: “if a woman has a torn placenta, that’s the problem, and the baby is perfectly normal.”)

He suspects that the real reason researchers favor fetuses from induced abortions is because “it’s easier for them to go to an abortion clinic…it’s much more difficult to get a baby from a miscarriage.”

The MRC5 cell line has been well known since at least 1970, when researchers published a paper about it in the British science journal, NATURE. Already at that time the cell line WI-38, which was derived form the lung cells of a deliberately aborted female fetus, had shown “stability and integrity” for 10 years. “We have developed another strain of cells,” wrote the authors of the NATURE article, “also derived form fetal lung tissue, taken from a 14-week-old male fetus removed for psychiatric reasons from a 27-year-old woman with a genetically normal family history.”

But any benefits drawn from deliberate abortion must have a “stigma” attached to them, Dr. Kahlenborn said, until biomedical researchers become convinced “that the aborted baby is not an object from which to choose spare parts.”