In 2020, the production of COVID-19 vaccines reignited a debate surrounding the ethics of using fetal cell lines derived from aborted children in the creation of such vaccines. As noted in a previous article published at Live Action News, “Live Action strongly condemns the use of abortion-derived cell lines in any stage of vaccine development (research, design, testing, or manufacturing) because these cell lines were created by violating the fundamental human rights of a preborn victim.”
However, there is more beneath the surface, and the connection of modern medicine to abortion is deep and complicated. Abortion has not just cast a shadow over vaccines, but over common household medications used by Americans on a daily basis.
The COVID vaccines
The three COVID vaccines currently in use in the United States are from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. While Pfizer and Moderna used the fetal cell line HEK-293 (derived from the kidney of an aborted baby in the 1960s) in the testing phase of their vaccines, Johnson & Johnson used the fetal cell line PER.C6 (derived from the retinal tissue of an 18-week aborted baby boy in the Netherlands in the mid-1980s) in both the testing and production of its COVID-19 vaccine.
The news led many pro-lifers to denounce the vaccines and call for others to do the same. Johnson & Johnson was labeled as the most morally compromised because it utilized fetal cells for the actual production of the vaccine, though many argued against using any vaccine with any connection to fetal cell lines.
Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, LC, a Catholic priest, wrote a thought-provoking article for Patheos in January which has been largely overlooked. In it, he revealed what those in the medical research field have known for a very long time: modern medicine and abortion-derived fetal cell lines are deeply intertwined. “[I]f we reject a medication merely for being tested on a fetal cell line,” he explained, “most of a standard pharmacy would be immoral.”
“Those people who argue against vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna which are only tested on fetal cell lines have a pretty straightforward argument,” he explained. “They identify ‘abortion as an evil which is in a horrendous class all its own, a class that excludes the normal rules of moral reasoning.’ The main rule excluded is the rule that remote material cooperation can be licit. They want nothing that could in any way indicate a possible approval of abortion or drawing good from abortion. If that is the standard, that standard should be applied across the board.”
Common household medications
A quick search on Google Scholar for common medications and HEK-293 (the most commonly used fetal cell line) yields countless results of the connection between HEK-293 and nearly every drug from Albuterol to Zithromax. It has been decades since the scientific research community began using fetal cell lines to both produce and test medications, vitamins, and vaccines. Completely phasing out the use of cells from aborted children is likely to take a number of years — and yet, as Live Action News previously noted, this should be the goal:
Using cell lines derived from the murders of innocent preborn children should not be normalized, and legal, financial, or market incentives for the harvesting of aborted children must be put to an end. These actors — lawmakers, pharmaceutical companies, and scientific researchers — should be strongly encouraged to develop alternative cell lines….
It isn’t just HEK-293 that yields these types of results on Google Scholar — it’s also WI-38, MRC-5, PER C6, WI-26, VA4, and Walvax-2. All are cell lines derived from children aborted decades ago and are used for vaccines such as rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A, and shingles. But even if we only listed the medications or vaccines connected to HEK-293 through testing alone (as the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are), that list is unimaginably long, as pointed out by Dr. Lisa Gilbert, MD — and most Americans have these items in their medicine cabinets.
“I believe all the Top Twenty medications prescribed in the US are tested on HEK293,” she explained, as quoted by Schneider. “Every medication I’ve researched so far appears to have some connection to HEK.”
This list includes Tylenol, Advil, Motrin, Aleve, Sudafed, Benadryl, Claritin, Robitussin, Mucinex, Tums, Maalox, Colace, Ex-Lax, Pepto-Bismol, Albuterol, Azithromycin, Lidocaine, and even the drug that endured such controversy early on in the COVID-19 pandemic: hydroxychloroquine. See the full list of the top 20 medications here.
“There is a difference between the scientists performing these tests or the companies selling HEK-293 and derivatives, vs. us using medicines that have been tested on HEK-293,” said Fr. Schneider. “That is why degrees of remoteness in cooperation matter. The amount of cooperation in evil of scientists running the test and those of us taking medicine are dramatically different. I will take a Tylenol if needed while a scientist would need a much greater good to justify their less-remote cooperation.”
So it’s important to realize that using those medications and vaccines in the meantime does not equal participation in or acceptance of abortion.
Schneider added, “If we were to disallow all remote cooperation, we would need to reject all of modern society more than contemplative nuns.”
Fr. Schneider explains that even the common and simple act of purchasing items made in China loosely connects us to the forced abortion the Chinese government has carried out on its citizens for decades. It would be impossible for a pro-life person to end any and all connections to abortion.
But that doesn’t mean pro-lifers have to accept it, either.
Looking to the future
Pro-lifers can and should demand that new methods be created and utilized for developing and testing the medications and vaccines that benefit our health. For instance, in 2020, major pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur discontinued the use of the MRC-5 fetal cell line from aborted children in the development of its polio vaccines. Instead, the company now uses Vero (monkey) cells. There are other avenues that can be explored as well, but the change cannot be accomplished overnight. It will take incentives and deadline goalposts as well as motivated individuals working in the field.
“One thing that the ubiquity of HEK-293 brings up is that Catholics, especially those in the field, should work for other research methods,” encouraged Fr. Schneider. “Can we start a cell line from umbilical cord blood or from other ethical sources that could replace HEK-293 as a standard way to do in vitro tests? We need to encourage the move from HEK-293 to one or more ethical lines…”
Progress can be made and it starts with pro-life individuals pushing back against the overwhelming use of aborted fetal cell lines created decades ago in the production and testing of medications and vaccines that we have come to rely on. But it also involves ending the trafficking of body parts from aborted children that is happening today in the U.S.
Preborn babies are being killed right now and are being sold for parts to scientific research companies. Pro-life politicians must be encouraged to pass vital pro-life legislation. Pro-lifers must continue to expose the predatory abortion industry for profiting from the deaths of children and continue to educate Americans about abortion. They must also remain present outside abortion businesses to help women choose life.
It will be a long road to removing fetal cell lines completely from vaccine and medication research, but it is a direction we need to energetically and urgently pursue.
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