Abortion link is problematic say key archbishops
Three Australian archbishops have written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison of their disappointment at the Federal Government’s interest in a coronavirus vaccine produced using cells linked to electively aborted human foetal tissue.
It follows last week’s announcement by Mr Morrison that the Government was in discussion with drug company AstraZeneca to secure the Oxford University trial vaccine and mounting pressure to make it mandatory for Australians.
The Oxford vaccine is ethically controversial as it was developed using a cell-line from a human foetus which was electively aborted in the 1970s.
The letter was signed by leaders of different Christian traditions, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney and Metropolitan of NSW Dr Glenn Davies, and the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia Archbishop Makarios.
The senior prelates urged Mr Morrison to instead make available to Australians an ethically uncontroversial vaccine for COVID-19 if one becomes available from the many clinical trials underway globally which do not involve foetal cell lines.
They called on him to not make the Oxford version mandatory if adopted, and to ensure no one is pressured to accept it “against their conscientious religious or moral beliefs or disadvantaged for failing to do”.
“While we accept 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,” they wrote.
Mr Morrison told media he would like a coronavirus vaccine to be “as mandatory as possible” with “a lot of encouragement and measures” to get a high level of acceptance.
But Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt went further, flagging censures for people who refuse a coronavirus vaccine when one becomes available, such as potentially stripping government assistance payments or denying access to child care or kindergarten enrolment.
“We have absolutely kept on the table concepts such as ‘no jab, no play’, ‘no jab, no pay’,” Mr Hunt told media this week.
Archbishop Fisher, a bioethicist, said that he personally did not believe it would be unethical to use the Oxford vaccine if there was no alternative available as it would not be co-operating with a past or future abortion.
“But I am deeply troubled by it,” he said while its use would be unnecessarily socially divisive.
University of Notre Dame bioethics professor Margaret Somerville told The Catholic Weekly that she agrees 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.
“This is not a novel problem.”
“People have rejected other vaccines which have been associated with cells or tissue from aborted foetuses.”
“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.”
Sydney Catholic Catherine Nunes said 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.”
Senior research fellow at the UK-based Anscombe Bioethics Centre Dr Helen Watt, the author of highly respected COVID-19 briefing papers, has said that a coronavirus vaccine that does not involve aborted human tissue “would be an enormous relief” to those wishing to avoid a link with an historic abortion.
According to the World Health Organisation there are currently 167 COVID-19 vaccine candidates with nearly 30 of them undergoing human clinical trials.
In their letter, the faith leaders said that while their churches are not opposed to vaccination and supported the government’s pandemic measures, many in their communities who oppose the use of foetal cell-lines would face the dilemma of succumbing to pressure to use a morally-compromised vaccine, or face the disadvantages of refusal as well as possibly undermining the goal of herd immunity.
“Many will feel deeply conflicted whichever way they go,” they wrote.