Are COVID-19 Vaccines Moral if They're One Step Removed From Aborted Babies?

AP Photo/Hans Pennink

There is a growing discussion in some quarters about the morality of using vaccines developed at some level using cell tissue from aborted babies. There are at least two different presuppositions to approach in the analysis.


First, there is the traditional Western/Christian understanding that all human life is divinely created. There are varying understandings among Catholics, Jews, and Protestants of the specifics of how God’s sovereign purposes are carried out, but the bottom line for each is most succinctly expressed in Psalm 139:15-16 in which King David praises God with these words:

15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

God is the author of all life, for His purposes; therefore, to kill a person before birth is murder as much as it was when Cain killed Abel after birth and in all murders since the first one.

The second view is the post-Christian idea that human life is the product of strictly material forces, the value of which is thus inherently and strictly instrumental. Put otherwise, human life is not sacred. Whatever improves the quality of life is justified because, as the old beer commercial said, “You only go around once in life.”

It’s not too far a step from such a presupposition to the conclusion that the end of improving the general condition of mankind is to be desired regardless of the means by which it is achieved.

So where does this connect to the COVID-19 vaccines issue? Herschel Smith over at Captain’s Journal offers a superb analysis of the responses from vaccine manufacturers to the claim their vaccines were developed using aborted baby tissue.

No, New York Times, Christianity’s Opposition to Abortion Is Anything But New

Smith points to a Reuters analysis of a video making the rounds on the Internet in which the speaker claims AstraZeneca used lung tissue from an aborted baby in developing its COVID vaccine (AZD1222):

The user in the video then switches to a Wikipedia page for further research on this mention of MRC-5, which she points out is a cell line “originally developed from research deriving lung tissue of a 14-week-old aborted Caucasian male fetus” ( . Speaking to her audience about the composition of the vaccine, the user says: “one thing it definitely has is the lung tissue of a 14-week-old aborted Caucasian male foetus.”

This is not true. AstraZeneca has confirmed to Reuters via email that AZD1222 was not developed using MRC-5 cell lines. The study, which was published on Research Square and was referred to by the Facebook user, is an independent study led by scientists at the University of Bristol (herehere) to test the efficacy of the potential vaccine prior to human trials. It tested this by observing how AZD1222 gets to work when inserted into a human cell line, ie: MRC-5 cell lines. This is not the same as developing a vaccine whereby MRC-5 is an ingredient in the final product.

Dr David Matthews, a reader of virology at Bristol University and co-author on the vaccine study, told Reuters. “Many virus vaccines are made in embryonic/foetal derived cell lines and then the vaccine is purified away from these cells to exceptionally high standards. Most of these cell lines (including MRC-5 cells and 293 cells) were derived from tissue samples taken from foetuses aborted in the 1960s and 1970s and the cells have been grown in laboratories all over the world since then.”


It turns out, Smith explains, that literally for decades medical researchers have been using aborted baby tissues to grow “immortalized cells” that are then used in vaccine development.

See the distinction being made and the presupposition on which the distinction depends: Cells grown in a lab from a dead baby’s body parts are not the same, therefore, research using the cells derived from those parts is justified because it leads to the vaccine.

Smith, who hastens to note that he is a Protestant, comments:

A simple denial that the cells from aborted babies were used to develop the vaccine isn’t sufficient.  What they are calling the “immortalized cell lines” wouldn’t exist if not for the original cell lines from the aborted baby.

The answers given by the fact checkers [are] almost amusing in their stupidity.  Answering in the way they do betrays an abject ignorance of classical Christian theology, assuming that a mere reference to the product of a product of an aborted baby removes it from the Biblical considerations that would be applied to the product of an aborted baby.  Such silly mental machinations are sufficient for people who do not believe in anything, but not for committed Christians.

Let me emphasize here that I devoutly (no pun intended) hope suitable vaccines are available to end the COVID pandemic. But what about this issue of immortalized cell lines derived from aborted babies?


Given the growing strength of the pro-life movement in America, the rising anger and frustration with COVID-justified lockdowns, masking, and social distancing that aren’t containing the disease in places like California, and the incidence of post-vaccination difficulties for some individuals, this issue is not going away any time soon and we will all have to face it.

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