Daily Archives: October 17, 2005

I just emailed the Pontifical Academy for Life.

I wrote:

To whom it may concern:
I am very sorry to bother you about a subject you no doubt consider settled. But there is some dispute among commentators concerning the proper interpretation of the letter on vaccine usage, regarding conscientious objectors such as myself.Some have even gone so far as to say vaccines are a non-issue for pro-lifers, even in the light of the document.
Does the document approve of conscientious objection by parents in the US? My reading of it is that one must consider the issue carefully, and that particulars of individual or public health *may* necessitate “tainted” vaccines in certain cases (such as parts of the world where diseases like Rubella are epidemic.In the US, where there is adequate health care to treat symptoms of diseases, many vaccines (flu, chicken pox) seem more oriented towards keeping kids in school and perpetuating a culture of “living to work.”Some have said that those of us who refuse to use vaccines are morally culpable for the spread of infection.That does not seem to me to be an accurate reading of the document: am I right or wrong?
Secondly, the CNS article implies a moral obligation to “prevent malformity”. I found this personally hurtful, as I have a genetic disorder, and I have often been told–usually by non-Catholics and secularists–that I am “cruel” to have children.I believe in being open to life. I believe that a life lived with pain or disability is still worth living, and has benefits that a “healthy person” does not experience.I would certanily welcome an ethical cure for my condition, but I do not believe that it’s wrong for me to have children: quite the opposite.
If you could please comment on these matters, it would be greatly appreciated. My Catholicism and my pro-life position are fundamentally important to me, yet the commentators in question have attacked what I consider to be two important aspects of being a committed pro-lifer: a) never benefitting from immoral medical research and b) being open to life, no matter how “malformed.”
Sincerely,John C. Hathaway198 Farrell Ln.Fredericksburg, VA 22401

Thanks, Judie Brown!

Dr. Miller stands by his allegiance to the CNS article, and has asked that I no longer argue this issue with him. Fine, but he just leaves me with the conclusion that, as far as he’s concerned, sick people can’t be good Catholics. Because, in his mind, to be a good Catholic you have to do everything you can to protect physical health and the “common good”. Got a cold? Don’t go near anyone else! You risk infecting others with a potentially deadly disease, and that hurts the “common good.”
Since I have stated to him that the above attitude is implied in the CNS article, and he refuses to address my complaints, I will have to accept that he agrees.

Anyway, I’m trying to find my bearings after this intellectual beating, and found the above piece by Judy Brown. I’m browsing websites and emailing all the pro-life leaders I can. As I get replies, I’ll post or link what I can here.

God is good!

Tonight, I had my faith shaken to the core. I have been engaging in a rather interesting discussion of “Catholic social teaching” on Mark Shea’s site, and the discussion has spurred my head in several directions. My initial intention was merely to discuss the need for a consistent social philosophy. A few of my statements regarding my own understanding of Church teaching were sort of misinterpreted. Anyway, I used vaccines as an example at one point.
My interlocutor, Kevin Miller, is a theology professor at FUS. His own blog is, interestingly enough, called “Heart, Mind and Strength.” My mind jumps to the connection that FUS is a haven for charismatics, and the equation health and virtue is the #1 reason I’ve always hated the Charismatic Movement. I am getting a sense of the kind of “ivory tower” Catholicism that has sometimes been connected to that particular institution.

Anyway, Dr. Miller is apparently no friend of COG for Life, and opted to agree with the interpretations of the Vatican statement given in the “mainstream Catholic media” (specifically, ZENIT and CNS)

I was quite grateful to him for pointing me to these articles, as I had *at first* thought they were new material (at least, to me).

When I read the articles, I was horrified. According to the two articles he links, the officials at the Pontifical Academy for Life “clarified” the document by saying that the use of tainted vaccines where there is no alternative is *required* because of the public health risk. One of those officials was “paraphrased” as saying that it’s a sin for a parent to “allow” a child to suffer “malformity” or life-threatening illness.
In other words, I’m the horrible monster that liberals and secularists (and a few Catholics) have told me I am.
In other words, I’d be “obligated” to accept a cure for Marfan syndrome derived from ESCR.
This literally struck the heart of my entire life, my entire raison d’etre.
I long ago vowed never to profit from the fruits of fetal tissue research.
If Pope Benedict XVI, who has been my hero since I was 8 or 9, were to tell me to my face, “You must give your children the MMR vaccine,” I would sooner leave the Church.
That is how seriously I take this issue, in my own conscience.

So, based upon these articles and Dr. Miller’s replies, I was devastated.

However, that only led me back to COG for Life’s site, and I found this article, which I’d actually read back in early August.
When all this started, I figured reading the original document is best, as Vatican documents are almost always given the most liberal interpretations in the mainstream Catholic media.
Further, I *had* read COG for Life’s initial responses to the press reports. I’d also read the COGL’s reply against the National Catholic
Bioethics Committee.
Both replies were pretty thorough. And I’m always one for “read the original,” so I just read the document. Of course, my take was posted to this site.

Now, my original interpretation of the article was that the use of tainted vaccines is only acceptible if a) there’s an immediate health risk and b) there’s no alternative (as in the US). Interestingly, the ZENIT and CNS articles talk about how these diseases are virtually “eradicated” in the US but “epidemic” in other parts of the world. Then they seem to imply that the epidemics going on in the third world create an immediate health risk for parents in the US.

Thankfully, the clarification from the Pontifical Academy for Life, linked above, specifically notes that the journalists who wrote the article were conflating the two separate criteria.
In the end, Pontifical Academy for Life *is* behind the right of parents for conscientious objection.

Now, I need to reply to Dr. Miller.
His take: vaccinations are a “non-issue,” because the use of fetal cell lines in faccines won’t “affect the abortion rate.” (One abortion is too much). Apparently, he does not see the connection to ESCR and ongoing fetal tissue research. He claims this is not a matter for pro-lifers to be concerned about, yet a successful petition drive led by COG for life convinced the Bush Administration to adopt a chicken-based program for smallpox vaccine (see their site).
The Vatican statement itself says that we have *at least* an obligation to lodge protests with our governments and with medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies, even if we feel it necessary to use the vaccines.

The document says that, as a norm, it’s illicit to use tainted vaccines, but in certain extreme cases, where there’s a direct health risk and no other alternative, those vaccines can be used. Even so, one would argue the issue of heroic virtue.
Take the following parallel: The Church says that, if a pregnant woman is sick, and she needs a surgery that might harm her baby, and there is no other medical alternative, she may choose to have that surgery, even if it has the unintended side effect of aborting her baby (and the baby cannot be directly aborted, but only dies as a side-effect of the operation).
However, St. Gianna Molla even refused such an operation that the Church would allow. This is an example of heroic virtue, and that’s why she’s a saint.

Saints are canonized because of their examples going above and beyond the call of ordinary, minimal standards of virtue.

I’m not going to condemn any parents who think they need to use the vaccines, though I’m going to urge them not to, but don’t condemn me for trying to go the extra mile.