A solution to the vaccine problem?

I read about this in Newsweek at the doctor’s office this morning, and so I just looked up a version of the story.
Basically, these dudes in England have figured out a way to inject viral DNA into a cell, to stimulate the immune system, without using a full-fledged inactive virus. A delivery system like theirs is exactly what researchers have been looking for in terms of curing adults with genetic disorders: inject the corrected DNA directly into a cell. So it’s good news, in that it’s an alternative to IVF as a means of “curing” genetic defects.

But what about tainted vaccines? Even as much as I’ve read about the issue, I’m still confused as to exactly the ways in which fetal tissue has been used for developing vaccines. Does it have more to do with the vaccine itself or the delivery system?
Would they still be getting this viral DNA from virii cultured in fetal tissue, or would it bypass this?

Anybody got a guess? I’m gonna e-mail Debi Vinnedge about this.


7 responses to “A solution to the vaccine problem?

  1. Your vaccine dilemma described in your previous post is interesting. One parallel would be the HIV situation in Africa — if the Church is going to be consistent in taking the position that following disease preventive public policies should take precedence over Church doctrine, why not permit the use of condoms to prevent the spread of a fatal disease? And yet the Church has been solidly against that.

  2. John C. Hathaway

    The difference here has to do with the concept of “material cooperation” and “remote” versus “proximate.”
    Basically, it’s a system that was developed in response to the very issues of Church versus state, and in response to the predominance of the mafia in the Italian economy.
    In other words, “If you know a business is run by the mafia, can you shop there?” The answer is, “If you have no other alternatives, you may shop there without guilt.” Forgoing buying the product altogether, however, would be an example of “heroic virtue.”

    Condoms are a direct evil. Promoting condoms to facilitate people who are spreading AIDS fornicating (or, more accurately, raping) is cooperating directly in 2 evils.
    The issue with vaccines is slightly removed from the original evil. The thing is to *stop* the vaccines from being produced.
    The Church only says that the cooperation is indirect enough that, in a case of severe need, it’s permissible to use a tainted vaccine. That’s only when there are no alternatives.

    There are always morally acceptible alternatives to condoms.

    A parallel example:
    Procured abortion is never permissible. If a woman is pregnant and ill (say, has cancer), and the doctor says, “Abort this baby so I can treat you,” that’s always wrong.

    *However*, if the doctor says, “this procedure might kill yuor baby or maybe cause birth defects,” it is permisslbe to *accept* that procedure, with the intention of curing the mother, even if the side-effect is killing the baby.
    But there is still the option of refusing the procedure altogether as an act of heroic virtue (why Gianna Molla was canonized).

  3. I was thinking of a specific example, of a young woman I read about somewhere, who was already dying of AIDS and sterile due to its complications. She was married and her uninfected husband was using a condom to protect himself. The alternative would have been abstinence, or some form of physical intimacy in which bodily fluids were not exchanged.

    I`ve wondered, if I were ever pregnant, and developed some life-theatening pregnancy-related complication, would I continue the pregnancy despite the risk of leaving my other children motherless? Or would I end it, and keep the knowlege of what I did to myself, and let my surviving kids grow up none the wiser? I know what the Catholic answer would be, but I really do not know what I would do. And of course I do hope I never face that.

  4. John C. Hathaway

    We heard a pediatric psychiatrist on TV last year whose specialty is children’s grief. He has isolated a condition he calls “survivor syndrome,” particularly in kids whose mothers have had abortions or miscarriages.
    He talked of one little girl whose mom brought her in for recurring nightmares. The dream was that she had 3 or 4 (i forget) siblings sinking into a desert sandstorm, and she couldn’t save them.

    When he told the mother about it, she was shocked and said, “I had four miscarriages before she was born, but I never told her!”
    He thinks it comes from children overhearing what adults don’t think they know.

    Anyway, from what I know of AIDS (I had to read and report on _And the Band Played On_ for a graduate journalism class), the couple in your situation are exercising needless caution. THere has never been a documented case of a man getting AIDS from normal sexual contact with a woman, *unless* he had an open wound.

    Now, here’s what *I* would answer , with William F. Buckley’s agreement and the disagreement of many of my otherwise compatriots.
    Contraception for medical reasons is not against the Natural Law.
    Birth control for its own sake is against natural law, but not contraception.

    Part of the Catholic theory is that contraception interrupts the sacramental nature of marriage, which is not present in a non-Catholic marriage, anyway.

    So if there is a medical justification for it, I could see it for a non-Catholic couple.

    For a Catholic couple, the point of marital sex should be self-sacrificing union, emulating Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, and that includes the risk of sharing the same disease, even as horrible a disease as AIDS.

    But you touch on what is one of my few problems with Church teaching, from a “disability rights” standpoint.

    What happens if a couple is somehow physically incapable of having intercourse?
    Yes, it is possible for couples to live in complete continence, but that requires very great virtue and a deep personal commitment. And part of the purpose of sex is supposed to be unitive.

    What happens in a case where one spouse is physically incapable of “performing” (e.g., due to paralysis)?

  5. (Actually, my initial is a small “L.,”, not a capital “I.”)

    The African case I cited was an infected woman, but I imagine there are infected men who use condoms to protect uninfected spouses. I can understand the argument that it is not “pro-life” to insist that a healthy person expose him/herself to a serious disease when there is a simple way to avoid it — though if a couple feely chooses to comply with church teachings, that is certainly their right.

    I married a non-Catholic who inists he doesn`t want anymore children and is actively preventing them, so for me these discussions are strictly academic.

  6. Hello John,
    I am a member of an email list that your wife is also a member of, which is how I happened upon your blog.

    As to your original question, if I am understanding your question correctly, the problem with the vaccines is that the cell lines used to develop them were derived from electively aborted babies. I’m going on memory here so bear with me. The cell line used for the chickenpox vaccine was derived from fetal tissue from an elective abortion where the mom didn’t want another child. The cell line used for the rubella vaccine is more shady, there were many abortions performed of babies whose mothers had possibly been exposed to or contracted rubella themselves, and they were encouraged to abort their babies, not only because of the birth defects that they may develop, but because the doctor and pharmaceutical company needed a cell line from the fetal tissue of a baby with rubella (or something like that). The whole backround you can read on the cogforlife website.
    I agree that the backround differs from that of the aids situation – however if let’s say they had moms aborting their HIV infected babies so that they could obtain the fetal tissue they needed to produce a cell line to manufacture a vaccine for HIV/AIDS, then that would be similar.
    As for the various interpretations of the document on vaccines, I am very confused. My reading of the original document and the conclusion I came to is at odds with the conclusion reached by the Catholic Bioethics committee. Actually, it seems to me that since the virus primarily has dire effects on the developing fetus, the person who would have a grave reason to use the vaccine, if no ethical vaccine were yet available, would be young women of childbearing age. It is common for doctors to test for rubella titre on their pregnant patients anyway.
    There are many more people who do not know the history of these tainted vaccines than do. None of my doctors knew. Almost nobody I know knew. I only found out a couple of years ago. I’ve already had the first 6 vaccinated with the tainted vaccine, not knowing anything of this controversy. Our youngest I haven’t had vaccinated for rubella. All my kids had the chickenpox so that one is moot. We are really going to have to be on the ball with these types of unethical preventatives/treatments.

    That’s probably enough for one comment. Nice to meet you.

    God bless.
    Joan B.

  7. John C. Hathaway

    Hi, Joan,

    Thanks for posting!
    I’ve been following the vaccine issue for several years now. You are right. The Vatican document is at odds with the Bioethics committee, and in favor of the COG for Life position. I emailed the Pontifical Academy for Life, and got a nice letter back, within two days, from one of the priests who wrote the document (he’s a priest & an MD).

    One of the “problems” with the document is that CNS and ZENIT published very slanted articles on it. CNS directly misquoted this Monsignor, in particular. Debi Vinnedge wrote to him, and got a clarification, in which he blamed it on a translation error.

    In any case, in his e-mail, he confirmed my interpretation of the document & also my outrage at the CNS article (which claimed that he said it’s a sin to allow a child to be deformed).

    Yes, there is a cell line from an “elective” abortion used to *culture* vaccines, and that’s what a lot of people call out in terms of “indirect” cooperation.

    *However*, that is only part of the fetal tissue issue. In the 1960s rubella outbreak, US researchers *told* infected pregnant women to have abortions, then used the babies to make the vaccine.

    Anyway, the point of the document is:
    1. It is a mortal to knowingly and willingly use “tainted” vaccines.
    2. We must use alternatives whenever available, and demand that they be made available to us.
    3. If a parent opts to use a tainted vaccine either a) unknowingly or b) under pressure form a doctor, that parent is not culpable (basic moral theology).

    4. Under extremely grave circumstances–either when there is an epidemic or in an individual who has extreme susceptibility–it is temporarily permissible to use tainted vaccines (with the caveat that we must still fight for reform).

    The document notes that the US is the only country where moral alternatives are not available for some vaccines.

    What some interpreters have done is sort of mash all that together, when the Vatican was intending several separate criteria.

    THus, Msgr. wrote to me, it would only be morally permissible to use the MMR vaccine in countries where there is presently a rubella outbreak (which is *not* the US). *However*, alternative rubella vaccines are available in just about every country *except* the US.
    So he was stating a hypothetical, and some people have taken that hypothetical as absolute.

    Long story short:
    go to http://www.cogforlife.org and download their chart of which vaccines are morally acceptible.

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