Friday, March 30, 2007

Human Technology Manufacturing Platforms Part II. How close is close: Levels of Cooperation.

In June 2005, the Pontifical Academy for Life, an arm of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, released a letter entitled, "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Human Foetuses."[1] The study was generated in response to a letter from the Executive Director of Children of God for Life, Mrs. Debra Vinnedge (cited above) and it's purpose was "to clarify the liceity of vaccinating children with vaccines prepared using cell lines derived from aborted human fetuses."[2] The study "regarded in particular" Mrs. Vinnedge's question concerning "the right of parents of these children to oppose such a vaccination when made at school, mandated by law."[3] Although the document is specifically addressed to the pediatric vaccination question, it's conclusion would certainly apply to others under "moral coercion" to use these vaccines, such as food industry workers for whom Hepatitis A vaccination is a condition of employment.

Before answering the question, the document first developed the notion that there are various forms of "cooperation" with evil. For those who, like myself, are theologically naive, we'll review them, too. The first fundamental distinction is between formal and material cooperation. In formal cooperation, one shares the intent of committing the evil. In other words, one agrees with the evil act. Thus, whether the person was the abortionist who actually aborted the baby forty years ago who's cells became WI-38, or simply a contemporary parent who's child is to be immunized with VARIVAX but also agrees with the abortion, perhaps believing they were justified because "something good came out of them," such formal cooperation is never licit. It's important to understand that this is true regardless of the closeness of the involvement: the parent who approves of the abortions shares, as much as the abortionist, in the illicit nature of the act.

In material cooperation, one shares the act, but not the intent. In other words, one is somehow associated with the act, but disagrees with the intent. Like formal cooperation, material cooperation has different levels of "closeness" (as illustrated briefly above) but we'll confine the rest of this discussion to material cooperation. Material cooperation may be either immediate or mediate. In immediate cooperation, one cooperates directly in the act. In mediate cooperation, one doesn't participate directly, but performs some indirect function, such as providing instruments or products which support the occurrence of the act. Cooperation can also be divided into proximate (either spatially, temporally, or conceptually) or remote.

Immediate material cooperation is always proximate. It has to be proximate, because one is directly participating in the act. When the evil is a grave matter, such as participation in abortion, immediate material cooperation is always illicit.[4] Thus, in the abortions performed decades ago in developing the WI-38 and RA 27/3 lines one would conclude that the participation of the Wistar and Merck researchers who collaborated with the Swedish abortionists at the Karolinska Institute to procure the tissue were immoral because they were proximate, regardless of whether they "personally agreed" with the abortions or not. Indeed, the document specifically addresses this type of cooperation, drawing attention to those involved in "the preparation, distribution and marketing of vaccines produced as a result of the use of biological material whose origin is connected with cells coming from foetuses voluntarily aborted," concluding that such activity is, "as a matter of principle, morally illicit." [5]

Mediate material cooperation may be proximate or remote. Since the nature of the cooperation is not direct but indirect, it may be somewhat distant in terms of time, space or circumstance.

A further distinction is drawn between active (positive) cooperation with evil, and negative (passive) cooperation. The distinction here is between doing something involved with the act, versus sitting back and allowing it to happen, when one has a definite moral duty to impede the evil in question, and this is summarized in the axiom, "evil thrives when good men do nothing." Passive cooperation, like active cooperation, can be formal or material, immediate or mediate, proximate or remote.

So how does all this apply to the vaccine question? The Vatican paper identified three categories of people in this matter: (1) those who make the vaccine, (2) those who market and distribute them, and (3) those who use them. We've already touched on the first two categories; these activities the document condemned as morally illicit "as a matter of principle," because "...preparation, distribution, and marketing... could contribute in encouraging the performance of other voluntary abortions, with the purpose of the production of such vaccines."[6] This is precisely what we see happening now, and my final section in this paper will be devoted to showing that this is so. To finish up with the document, however, it then goes on to note that within the production - distribution - marketing chain, there are varying levels of responsibility. However, the note is also made that the cooperation is "more intense" on the part of those authorities, for example medical councils that recommend, or government agencies that implement, the use of these vaccines.

The document then takes up the final category of people, those who use the vaccines. The parents who use the vaccines, as well as the physicians who administer them, assuming they are not in formal cooperation with the abortion (i.e., they don't agree with it), "carry out a form of very remote mediate material cooperation... in the performance of the original act of abortion.[7] The same sentence also notes that those same parents are in mediate material cooperation regarding the marketing of cell lines coming from abortion, and immediate material cooperation regarding the marketing of vaccines coming from the cell lines coming from the abortions.

The document continues, " this situation, the aspect of passive cooperation is that which stands out most. It is up to the faithful... to oppose, even by making an objection of conscience, the ever more widespread attacks against life... From this point of view, the use of vaccines whose production is connected with procured abortion constitutes at least a mediate remote passive material cooperation to the abortion, and an immediate passive material cooperation with regard to their marketing."[8] "Therefore," the paper continues, "... fathers of families... should oppose by all means... the vaccines which do not yet have morally acceptable alternatives."

Regarding those vaccines which have no alternatives (in the United States, this would include the rubella vaccine and the varicella vaccine), the paper notes that "it is right to abstain from using these vaccines if it can be done without causing children, and indirectly the population as a whole, to undergo significant risks to their health." If there are significant risks, the paper continues, they may be used on a "temporary basis." "The moral reason is that the duty to avoid passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is grave inconvenience."[9]

In conclusion, the Vatican paper condemns the production, marketing, and distribution of the vaccines. It also condemns those public policy officials who implement their use. It supports those parents who make "an objection of conscience," up to and including abstention from use (" is right to abstain from using these vaccines") assuming it can be done without "significant risk." However, it doesn't condemn those parents who vaccinate, given the level of moral coercion which exists.

Before leaving this section I'll make a couple of observations on some phrases used in the document. "Therefore, ... fathers of families... should oppose by all means... the vaccines which do not yet have morally acceptable alternatives." Note is made here of the use of the word "yet." In addition, I note the use of the phrase, "temporary basis" as in, these vaccines may be used on a temporary basis if the risk of not using them is grave and there are no licit alternatives. Although not specifically stated, it seems to me that, in choosing this sort of wording, the authors are writing under the assumption that the use of human cell lines is dying out, and that these vaccines will soon be replaced with something less "morally tainted." As we shall see, nothing could be further from the truth.

Next week: Human technology manufacturing platforms.

[1] “Moral reflections on vaccines prepared from cells derived from human aborted human foetuses.” Letter dated 9 June 2005. The entire text is available at multiple sites including the National Catholic Bioethics Center "News and Events" section ( and Children of God for Life website op cit.
[2] ibid, cover letter to Debra Vinnedge, paragraph one.
[3] ibid.
[4] ibid, pg. 5.
[5] ibid.
[6] ibid.
[7] ibid, emphasis in the original.
[8] ibid, emphasis in the original.
[9] ibid, pg.6. Emphasis in the original.

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