Fr. Phil Wolfe

The Morality of using Vaccines derived from Fetal Tissue Cultures:

A Few Considerations

Fr. Phil Wolfe, FSSP

Catholics troubled by the morality of using vaccines derived from fetal tissue cultures should be mindful of the ancient axiom: Bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu.  (Goodness arises from an integral cause, evil arises from any defect whatsoever)

What does this axiom mean?  It means that the moral goodness or evil of an act can be determined by a thoughtful assessment of the act itself, as well as its attending circumstances.  A good act, attended by good circumstances, is said to have an integral cause, and thus can be safely performed by Catholics;  but however admirable an act may be in other respects, if even one of the circumstances is gravely evil, the act cannot be recommended to Catholics.

How, then, can a Catholic thoughtfully assess the morality of an act, such as these vaccinations?

He must determine the goodness by assessing the morality of the object and the circumstances of the act.

The first consideration is to assess the moral object of the act.  What is the moral object of a vaccination?  Let’s use a specific example to illustrate: an immunization against Measles, Mumps and Rubella using the MMR II vaccine.  Since the moral object of any act is the exterior act as proposed by reason, in this case, the moral object of the act of immunizing a child with MMR II is to give him an inoculation with this vaccine so as to induce an immune response – so that he will be immune to measles, mumps and rubella.  This – in itself – is a good moral object.

The circumstances which surround the MMR II vaccination must now be considered. The circumstances are those things that “stand around” an act, and qualify it in some manner.  There are 7 circumstances: who, what, where, by what aid, why, how and when.   (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, De Malo,q. 2, a. 6.)  If all the attending circumstances are good, or indifferent, then that act is good; that act arises from an integral cause.  If one or more of the attending circumstances are evil, then there is a defect, and the act itself is evil.

For this particular act, that of immunizing a child with MMR II, the circumstance which deserves close scrutiny is “by what aid.”  “By what aid” refers to the instrumental cause, or agent of the act, in this case the MMR II vaccine, a product produced using fetal tissue, obtained from an aborted baby, as a culture medium.

At this point a feeling of extreme unease might overcome the Catholic who is attempting to assess the morality of this procedure.  He recognizes that the moral object of the act is good – to immunize a child against these diseases –  and he recognizes that if all the attending circumstances were good, he could safely conclude that this act would be good.  But now he reaches the uneasy notion that this vaccine is tainted in some fashion, since it was produced using fetal tissue.  May he then use it – since he is not directly approving of the abortion which made production of this vaccine possible?  He wonders, does this circumstance “by what aid” pertain here?  Can he disclaim the origin of this vaccine, as some have argued, on the basis that his use would only be a remote material cooperation with the intrinsic evil of the direct abortion and use of the aborted baby’s tissue?

In order to answer these questions, he should pay thoughtful attention to the rules for restitution for a possessor in bad faith, which is to say, that he should study the “rules for returning things that he knows don’t belong to him.”

Now, in order that a Catholic get a reasonably solid grasp on the rules for restitution for a possessor in bad faith, a few illustrations will first be offered; and then the rules will be applied to the situation at hand.

Imagine a man steals his neighbor’s lawnmower.  He knows full well that he has NO right to this thing.  This man is in bad faith.  So possession in bad faith means that the man who has the goods in bad faith knows full well that they are not rightfully his.

Now, suppose that the thief sells this lawnmower to another man for a very good price, and tells him that the price is so cheap because the lawnmower is stolen.   Is the man who just bought this lawnmower – knowing full well it was stolen – in good faith?  No, he’s also an example of possession in bad faith.  Now, supposing, in either of these cases, the man who has unjust possession of this lawnmower repents:  What does he have to do?

There’s one basic rule:  A man in bad faith has to make restitution for ALL the foreseeable damage caused to the lawful owner.  It’s easy to understand – he’s responsible for the damage, so he has to fix it.

Now what does that mean, in these cases?

1) he has to return the thing itself, if it still exists: in this case, a stolen lawnmower.
2) If it no longer exists, he has to restore the equivalent value.  So, even if he doesn’t have the lawnmower anymore, he still owes the poor man he stole it from either the equivalent value in  money or an equivalent lawnmower.

Now, suppose a little more complicated situation: Suppose that the original owner of the lawnmower used it for business.  And now he is sitting around without his equipment, unable to work, since his mower was stolen. And suppose, again, that the thief repents.  What does the thief have to do for restitution?

1) The thief still has to return the thing itself, if it still exists: in this case, a stolen lawnmower.
2) If it no longer exists, he has to restore the equivalent value.

Now, he has Another responsibility, since a man in bad faith has to make good for all the foreseeable damage caused to the lawful owner.  And that is the 3rd point:

3) He has to restore the profit which the owner would have made, or reimburse him for the loss he suffered – in this case, the $ lost from being unable to work has to be restored to the owner.

Now suppose a even more complicated situation:  Suppose the thief put some work into the lawnmower; suppose that he did 3 things – he painted it  – not because it needed paint but to make sure he didn’t get caught with a stolen lawnmower. Then, he had it tuned up since it was running a little rough, and this tune-up was definitely very useful.  Then, since the blade was so dinged up it hardly cut, he put a new blade on the mower.  And after putting all this into this stolen lawnmower, he repented.  What does he have to do now?

1) the thief still has to return the thing itself, if it still exists: the stolen lawnmower.
2) If it no longer exists, he has to restore the equivalent value.
3) He still has to restore the profit which the owner would have made, or reimburse him for the loss he suffered – in this case, the money lost from being unable to work has to be restored to the owner.
4) But this time – He can deduct any useful or necessary expenses – a useful expense improves the item; a necessary expense preserves it.  For example, the tune-up was a useful expense; the new blade was a necessary expense.  But the paint wasn’t either useful or necessary but only done for the sake of camouflage, so he can’t deduct that expense.

Now, suppose an entirely different situation: Imagine a rustler who steals about 20 head of cows., and then, 2 years later, he repents.  What is he responsible for?

1)A thief  has to return the thing itself, if it still exists: in this case, 20 head of cows – not bulls, not steers.
2) If it no longer exists, he has to restore the equivalent value.  So, if he sold some of the cows, he has to replace that same number.
3) He has to restore the profit which the owner would have made, or reimburse him for the loss he suffered – in this case, the money lost from not having those 2 years of a calf-crop.
4) He can deduct any useful or necessary expenses – a useful expense improves the item; a necessary expense preserves it.  For example, veterinary bills and pasturage.

Here’s the new addition:
5) He has to restore all the natural products of the property.   Lawnmowers don’t have natural products.  But cows do.  What are natural products?  Something produced naturally, by the very nature of the creature.  In the case of cattle, the natural products of beef cows are calves.  Milk cows – milk and calves…. For an apple tree, it’s apples… for a peach tree, it’s the peaches, for a hay field, the hay,  and so forth… So this rustler has to return any calves, heifers, steers or bulls born out of those 20 head since he stole them.  He can’t keep them.  He can’t build up a herd on stolen cattle.  They have to go back; they belong to the original owner. He can’t profit on his rustling.

Now how does all this apply to the situation with the MMR II vaccine?  If a man in bad faith has to restore all the natural products of the property he has unjust possession of, how can the pharmaceutical companies possibly justify their possession of the natural product of a little baby,  the tissue used to culture the vaccine; the same tissue which was – in an act of supreme injustice – carved out of the flesh of a baby?  It is crystal clear that all those involved are in bad faith, and that restitution must be made; that these tissues not only not be utilized in any sort of experimentation or production at all, but that they be allowed to die.  There are no provisos in the rules for restitution which could excuse a possessor in bad faith from returning his ill-gotten goods, on the condition that he could do all kinds of interesting research with his contraband.  These people are in bad faith, and they are in unjust possession of someone else’s tissues without any  right.

But, you say, what if the mother agreed to donate the tissue from her aborted child for research?  The parents have no right to donate their aborted child for medical research.  Bodily rights ultimately belong to God and when He creates us He gives us conditional rights over our bodies. Through natural death, God cedes the right over the body to the next of kin (or state if there is no next of kin). When someone is murdered, they violate not only the person’s conditional rights over their body, but they also usurp God’s rights by killing that person. God’s rights are usurped because it is ultimately God’s body to give to whom He pleases. Through natural death it is clear that God is giving the body to someone else because He has taken it from the person who had it. So in abortion, the parents have usurped rights over the child’s body which is not theirs because God did not cede the rights to them; they illicitly took them. Therefore, the parents of an aborted child or the person who murders can not use the body of the person they killed. With abortion and murder, the only way that justice is served is that the body must be buried. This in a sense gives the body back to God and it respects the right of the individual by not doing anything with the body since the person’s will regarding their body can not be ascertained.

The notion of possession in bad faith – when applied to fetal tissue culture – is only an analogical usage. Why?  Because unlike the situation wherein a rustler could actually purchase the cattle he had stolen, and thus come into legitimate possession of that previously stolen livestock –  no power on Earth can give anyone the right to possess, purchase or preserve tissue taken from a sacrificed baby.   Human tissue obtained in such a manner is not an object of possession, and can never be an object of possession, irregardless if they are producing vaccines for every disease on Earth.  The evil use of fetal tissue for someone’s good cannot justify the situation: it is a screaming violation of justice.  In this case, the circumstance of “by what aid” is evil, and therefore the whole act of immunizing a child with the MMR II vaccine, as originally considered, is evil:  Bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu.  (Goodness arises from an integral cause, evil arises from any defect whatsoever.)

It is immoral to knowingly use any medical products – vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, stem cells, you name it, which are derived from tissue obtained via abortion or embryonic destruction.

Appendix:
The rules for the duty of restitution.

A man may be possessed of the property of another without a just title either through an act of injustice, e.g., fraud, theft, usury, etc., or in good faith, e.g., by purchase, donation, or legacy.  In the former case there is a culpa theologica, i.e., a formal violation of strict justice (iustitia commutativa), in the latter there is merely a material injustice.  These two forms of unjust possession determine the manner in which restitution must be made.
The general rules for determining the duty of restitution are the following: 

a) “Res clamat domino,” i.e., the rightful owner is entitled to his property, no matter into whose hands it may have fallen.  This rule follows necessarily from the nature of property and ownership.  In applying it, however, due regard must be paid to prescription, etc.
b) “Res fructificat domino,” i.e., the rightful owner is entitled to the fruits of his property, provided, of course, he has not ceded this right to others.
c) “Res naturaliter perit domino,” i.e., the right of ownership is bound up with the object owned and ceases with that object.  If the object has perished, but its value continues, the original owner is entitled to the latter, as e.g., when a ton of wheat has been sold and the sum received is still in the hands of the seller.  If a thing has perished not from natural causes, but through the fault of the possessor, the owner is entitled to restitution.
d) “Nemo ex re aliena locupletari potest,” i.e., no one has a right to enrich himself with the property of another, for the fruits of that property do not belong to the unlawful possessor but to the rightful owner.  

If the possessor can not reach the owner, he must make restitution to the heirs. 

The fruits of a thing (fructus rei) may be:

1) Fructus naturales, natural, i.e., derived from the thing itself (beneficio naturae) without the co-operation of man, or with but slight co-operation on his part, for example, fruits of trees, wood in a forest, grass on a meadow, milk, wool, etc.;
2) Fructus industriales, i.e., fruits of human industry or toil, such as the profits from a sale or purchase, etc.;
3) Fructus mixti, which are partly the result of industry (ex industria) and partly of the natural or artificial fertility of the property  (ex re ipsa), for instance, grain, wine, etc.;
4) Fructus civiles, which are derived from an object by means of the civil law, e.g., rent, salary, etc.  The latter category may be reduced to the first (fructus naturales).

I. One may be in possession of the property of another either in bad faith or in good faith.  A possessor malae fidei is one who knows, or has good reason for believing, that the property he holds belongs to another.  Such a one is bound to restore to the rightful owner whatever the latter has been unjustly deprived of, that is to say:
a) The stolen property itself, for “res clamat domino.”  If the property no longer exists, its value must be restored.  If it has deteriorated in value whilst under the control of the unlawful possessor, restitution must be made of the value it had when it was taken from its rightful owner.  If its value has increased, it must be restored as it is, with all its fruits, for, “res fructificat domino.”  If the stolen property fluctuated in value after the theft, the owner’s loss bust be made good, and if he intended to sell it when at its highest value, that value must be restored to him.
b) All the fruits of the property, natural, industrial, and mixed, must be restored to its owner.  But any necessary or useful expensed incurred by the legitimate possessor for the preservation or improvement of the property, as well as such fruits as may be the result of special efforts on his part, may be deducted.
c) The damage suffered by the owner in consequence of being deprived of what belonged to him (damnum emergens) as well as any profits he may have lost (lucrum cessans), must also be restored to him. 

(From A Handbook of Moral Theology by the Reverend Antony Koch, D.D., adapted and edited by Arthur Preuss.  Volume V.  Man’s Duties to His Fellowmen.  B. Herder Book Company.  St Louis, MO.  1933 pp. 379-383.)