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Alternatives & Bioethical Analysis

Test tubes in a labratory

Thankfully, there are readily available ethical alternatives to most of the 21 vaccines that are derived from aborted cell lines. These alternatives are just as regulated and just as efficacious, but instead of being derived from aborted embryos, are derived from a variety of sources including monkeys, hen eggs, yeast, and, interestingly, tobacco. These alternative vaccines are morally and ethically licit.

In five of the 21 vaccines, there are no ethical alternatives. In routine childhood vaccinations, the ones that parents should be concerned about are the chickenpox, Hepatits A, and the chickenpox & MMR combined vaccines. There is no ethical alternative for the Hepatitis A vaccine in the United States and Canada, but there is one available in Asia and Europe.

Now that the medical facts have been firmly established, we can seek to answer our question. I believe that two ethical principles are at play in this parental decision which should be studied and decided upon by both parents.

St. Thomas Aquinas is credited with the development of the principle of double effect. In short, if an action has two possible consequences, it is permissible to choose with the intention of achieving the good consequence of an action even if there will also be a negative consequence. Consider this. As we approached the births of both of our children, I recognized that the risk of childbirth is that complications for Alison may result in her death. We have great maternal saints in the Church, such as St. Gianna, who gave her life in childbirth in order to save the life of her child. I knew that there was the possibility that I might need to make a medical decision that would have serious consequences. Say, for example, there was a complication and Alison needed an emergency procedure that would save the life of our child, but could possibly put hers in peril. The alternative, do nothing, would result in both Alison and our child dying. If I chose to allow the procedure to be performed with the intention of saving both lives, but as a result Alison did not survive, that would still be a morally licit decision. The principle of double effect applies because I chose with the intention of saving both mother and child, but in this case, heartbreakingly only the child did. Thankfully, I was not put in this position and all of us are at home and happy!

When a parent chooses to have their child vaccinated with a vaccine derived from an aborted human, in the cases where there is no ethical alternative, they intend to protect the life of their child from a lethal illness and they do not intend the death by elective abortion of the human from which the vaccine was derived. The principle of double effect applies, and the parent’s action is morally and ethically licit in this case.

The principle of subsidiarity is unique in Catholic thinking, and it holds that in a community, results are best achieved from the bottom up. Since there are currently no ethically derived alternatives for five types of immunizations in the United States and Canada, it’s the moral imperative of parents and people of conscience to advocate for and demand the creation of these ethical alternatives. It should be noted that even the Ebola immunization, which is currently in development, has an ethical alternative. Happily, there is also a new ethical alternative vaccine for Shingles in development. Pharmaceutical companies largely operate in the free market, and so when the market demands these alternatives, they will be developed. The principle of subsidiarity applies here because we cannot simply wait for executives or governments to decide to pursue these vaccines in new research. We must demand them from the consumer level.