Australian bishops formally back COVID-19 vaccination

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An Australian Catholic bishops commission has encouraged the faithful to be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying in the absence of a choice, any option is morally acceptable. PHOTO: CNS

Statement recognises ethical concerns, urges vaccination

Australia’s bishops have encouraged Catholics to receive a COVID-19 vaccine saying that it is morally permissible to accept any of the available choices.

In a document published on 20 April, the Bishop’s Commission for Life, Family and Public Engagement acknowledged serious concerns among the faith community about “ethically questionable production and research practices” associated with vaccines, including the use of cell lines derived from an aborted baby girl in the 1970s.

However, the Commission follows the guidance of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published last December in urging people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for their own health and that of the wider community.

Archbishop Comensoli, chair of the bishops’ Commission for Life, Family and Public Engagement.

In the form of Frequently Asked Questions, the bishops urge governments to conduct its medical research in moral ways, and offer people a choice of options. If possible, Catholics should choose the least morally compromised vaccine – which in Australia would mean the Pfizer vaccine or, in future, Novavax if it is approved. But if only one option is offered, Catholic may receive any “with a clear conscience”.

Chair of the Bishops Commission Archbishop Peter A Comensoli said that civil and health authorities should “work ethically with respect for every human person from conception until natural death”.

“At all times we oppose the destruction of human life,” Archbishop Comensoli said.
“At the same time, remote connection with such actions is an important factor when considering our responsibility to the common good and the health of others.”

The bishops’ advice is that anyone deciding for reasons of conscience to refuse a vaccine are “morally obliged to do their utmost, by other protective means and appropriate behaviour to avoid contracting COVID-19 themselves and to avoid transmission of the disease”, particularly to those most vulnerable.

They also encourage people to consult with their doctor in deciding about vaccines. Last December Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, himself a bioethicist, welcomed the Vatican’s statement that in the absence of alternatives, it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines developed using cell lines originating from a human abortion.

While ethically-produced vaccines are always to be preferred, “were only the AstraZeneca vaccine available, people could choose to use it in good faith as their connection (today) to the abortion (in the 1970s) that led to the foetal cell-line used in the vaccine is so remote”, he said.

The bishops’ advice can be found at catholic.org.au/coronavirus

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