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Catholics back archbishops on vaccine

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A nurse speaks with patients at the door of a COVID-19 clinic at Mount Barker Hospital in Adelaide, March 17, 2020. PHOTO: CNS/Kelly Barnes, AAP Image via Reuters

Ethical option will boost ‘critical’ vaccination uptake levels

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has plenty of support among Catholics for his call on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to pursue a vaccine for the coronavirus which will not pose a dilemma for people opposed to the use of human foetal cell lines.

The Archbishop faced heat from the media in recent days after expressing his hope that the Federal Government will consider alternate vaccines that do not raise the same ethical concerns posed by the Oxford University trial vaccine.

The Oxford vaccine is controversial as it was developed using a cell-line from a human foetus which was electively aborted in the 1970s.

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In a social media message Archbishop Fisher refuted misrepresentative media claims, saying he would never ask Catholics to boycott any vaccine that came available but that he had presented the “legitimate concerns” of many in a letter to the PM co-signed by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney and Metropolitan of NSW Dr Glenn Davies, and the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia Archbishop Makarios.

A scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round gold objects), the virus that causes COVID-19, emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab and isolated from a patient in the United States. PHOTO: CNS/NIAID-RML via Reuters)

In their 20 August letter the prelates pointed out that while they accepted that the proposed vaccine “may be sufficiently remote from the abortion that occasioned the derivation of the cell-line, we flag to you that any COVID-19 vaccine cultured on a foetal cell-line will raise serious issues of conscience for a proportion of our population”.

Catholic Health Australia, which operates 75 hospitals and 550 residential and community aged care services, said it supported research “based on the highest ethical standards”.

“Where these standards are compromised, we have a moral duty to seek alternatives,” a spokesperson told media. “If, however, there is no alternative, we have a duty of care to all Australians to work for the common good.”

A spokesperson for the Australian Catholic Medical Association told The Catholic Weekly the organisation “fully endorsed” the archbishops’ ethical concerns about the Oxford vaccine being developed by bio-pharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca.

The ACMA wrote to Mr Morrison, Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, Chief  Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly and Regional Health Minister Mark Coulton on 4 August, raising not only ethical but also safety concerns about the rapid development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccine candidates. The organisation is yet to receive a response.

The spokesperson said that it was important to note that the organisation’s medical and health professionals “are not anti-vaxxers” but want to reduce the ethical challenges recipients may have and thereby increase the potential vaccine uptake by removing a significant barrier.

Sydney Catholic Catherine Nunes will not accept a vaccine derived from a human foetal cell line available as a result of an elective abortion.

“There are many persons and families across many faith traditions who would not access vaccines developed with the use of aborted foetal cell lines. This will be problematic if the vaccine becomes mandatory,” said the ACMA letter which has been published on its website.

“If there is no ethically derived COVID-19 vaccine, we expect there will be a portion of the community who will have concerns that may lead to reduced population coverage at a time when coverage is critical.

“To be clear, we do not oppose the development of a vaccine, but believe that the issue of vaccine selection and choice is important both medically and morally.

“It is something which the government of a tolerant and diverse society should support and address now, so as to ensure that good decisions are made, and that there is sensible public discussion.”

Sydney Catholic Catherine Nunes told The Catholic Weekly she would defy any authorities “that would seek to compel people to cooperate in this evil” of elective abortion.

“It is deplorable that a vaccine designed to protect vulnerable citizens of our society would be developed through the sacrifice of the youngest and most vulnerable, the aborted child,” Mrs Nunes said. “Our health and our safety should not come at the price of another’s life.”

“Our health and our safety should not come at the price of another’s life.”

Katrina Cristofaro, parishioner at Holy Spirit Parish in Kincumber, said that neither she or her children “will be taking an immorally made vaccine”.

“There are plenty of companies making moral COVID vaccines, why not support those?” she asked. “Making a vaccine that uses aborted foetal cells mandatory is a breach of the constitution. You cannot force people to medicate against what is best for our health and against our conscience.”

University of Notre Dame bioethics professor Margaret Somerville said that she thought many people will conscientiously object to a vaccination linked to an electively aborted human foetus.

“They will not agree to be vaccinated because they would then consider themselves to be complicit in the wrong that they see abortion as being,” she said.

“There is work underway on more than 160 potential vaccines around the world. If the government wants to use the Oxford vaccine, there should also be made available a vaccine which is not associated with cells or tissue from electively aborted foetuses if it is possible to do so.”

Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies (left) and Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP take questions. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli
Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies (left) and Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP take questions at forum on faith last year in Sydney. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

A spokesman for Mr Morrison yesterday told media the Prime Minister respected the views of religious communities, understands the issues being raised and that the Government is supporting a University of Queensland vaccine candidate that does not contain foetal cell lines.

“The Government is investing in research and technology that we hope will produce a range of vaccines that will be suitable for as many Australians as possible,” the statement said.

Archbishop Markarios, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. PHOTO: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

According to the World Health Organisation there are currently 167 COVID-19 vaccine candidates with nearly 30 of them undergoing human clinical trials.

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