Twisting the Truth in Dignitas Personae - Part II

February 8, 2011 09:00 AM

By Debi Vinnedge

Part 2 of 4 (continued from yesterday)

Note from author: Because it may be confusing to follow the quotes of the various writers when compared to the actual text of the Church documents, all citations from Church teaching are highlighted in red font.

It is a slight nuance, between what May wrote and what Dignitas Personae actually stated, but it’s an important one. The intention was to show that because of past confusion on whether one could use the cell lines or not, it was necessary to state it clearly, as was finally done in this Church instruction.

Now if May had stopped right there and explained that indeed, these cell lines clearly could not be used by the researchers, it might not have been necessary to cry “foul!” Instead, he then goes on to blur the distinctions Dignitas Personae made between those who use the cell lines in research and those who use vaccines produced from these cell lines, citing a 2009 article by Christian Brugger, “Strengths and Weaknesses of Dignitas Personae.”

In that article Brugger poses some rather absurd questions regarding the use of these cell lines, where he writes, “Would this apply to an epidemiologist in 2009 doing research on the WI-38 or MRC-5 cell lines, or to vaccines derived from those lines, given that both were taken from electively aborted fetuses? The moral wrong—the grave evil of abortion—was done nearly forty-five years ago. Current material cooperation in those immoral acts is doubtlessly remote.”

Let’s break this down because we are talking apples and oranges here.

First, epidemiologists do not use aborted fetal cell lines to conduct research; scientists in the lab might, but epidemiologists gather statistical data and do not conduct biological research.

Second, the Vatican has drawn sharp distinctions between those who conduct research using immoral cell lines and parents who use the vaccines produced from those cell lines in order to protect the health of their children. At no point do they use the fact that the abortions were done several years ago.

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Catholic teaching knows that time does not diminish the sin, nor does it lessen the evil of the act that was performed.

Third, the Vatican did not say that, “Current material cooperation in those immoral acts is doubtlessly remote,” as Brugger contends.

In fact, here is what the Pontifical Academy for Life stated on cooperation for both researchers and the parents in their 2005 dissertation, “Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Fetuses”:

For Researchers (Pages 5-6)

In the specific case under examination, there are three categories of people who are involved in the cooperation in evil, evil which is obviously represented by the action of a voluntary abortion performed by others: a) those who prepare the vaccines using human cell lines coming from voluntary abortions; b) those who participate in the mass marketing of such vaccines; c) those who need to use them for health reasons.

Firstly, one must consider morally illicit every form of formal cooperation (sharing the evil intention) in the action of those who have performed a voluntary abortion, which in turn has allowed the retrieval of foetal tissues, required for the preparation of vaccines. Therefore, whoever—regardless of the category to which he belongs—cooperates in some way, sharing its intention, to the performance of a voluntary abortion with the aim of producing the abovementioned vaccines, participates, in actuality, in the same moral evil as the person who has performed that abortion. (emphasis added) Such participation would also take place in the case where someone, sharing the intention of the abortion, refrains from denouncing or criticizing this illicit action, although having the moral duty to do so (passive formal cooperation).

In a case where there is no such formal sharing of the immoral intention of the person who has performed the abortion, any form of cooperation would be material, (emphasis added) with the following specifications.

As regards 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, such a process is stated, as a matter of principle, morally illicit, (emphasis added) because it could contribute in encouraging the performance of other voluntary abortions, with the purpose of the production of such vaccines.

In fact, that last statement is exactly what has happened with new abortions and new fetal cell lines being used for future vaccines. As for the level of cooperation by parents who use the vaccines, the PAFL had a lot more to say about “remote cooperation”:

For parents and physicians who use the vaccines from aborted fetal cell lines: (Page 6)

As regards those who need to use such vaccines for reasons of health, it must be emphasized that, apart from every form of formal cooperation, in general, doctors or parents who resort to the use of these vaccines for their children, in spite of knowing their origin (voluntary abortion), carry out a form of very remote mediate material cooperation, and thus very mild, in the performance of the original act of abortion, and a mediate material cooperation, with regard to the marketing of cells coming from abortions, and immediate, with regard to the marketing of vaccines produced with such cells. The cooperation is therefore more intense on the part of the authorities and national health systems that accept the use of the vaccines. However, in this situation, the aspect of passive cooperation is that which stands out most. It is up to the faithful and citizens of upright conscience (fathers of families, doctors, etc.) to oppose, even by making an objection of conscience, the ever more widespread attacks against life and the "culture of death" which underlies them. 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. (emphasis added) Furthermore, on a cultural level, the use of such vaccines contributes in the creation of a generalized social consensus to the operation of the pharmaceutical industries which produce them in an immoral way.

Without question, the PAFL went to great lengths to describe the various levels of cooperation and how those levels are far more complicated than Brugger described for both parents and the researchers using these cell lines. It is both irresponsible and incredible that Brugger and May fail to either understand or acknowledge this.

Yet May continues to distort the facts by quoting from Brugger who goes on to assert, “Is a researcher’s duty to refuse to work on those materials exceptionless,[sic] even when the refusal could result in harms to the researcher and to his or her family? The text indicates that it is not. It states that “grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such ‘biological material’ (n. 35)”

And while May includes it in his article, Brugger omits the real explanation that Dignitas Personae gave for such criteria. The “grave reasons that may be morally proportionate” are directed toward parents who might need to use the vaccines for their children—not the researchers!

Please read tomorrow for part three of Debi Vinnedge’s article.

Debi Vinnedge is the executive director of Children of God for Life, a non-profit, pro-life organization focused on the bioethic issues of human cloning, embryonic and fetal tissue research. In addition, she serves as a member of the Vaccine Advisory Board for Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute. Ms. Vinnedge is a nationally recognized author and speaker and has provided written testimony for Congressional hearings on embryonic stem cell research. She is considered the foremost authority on the use of aborted fetal cell lines in medical products and vaccines. Her organization’s Campaign for Ethical Vaccines has gained the backing of over 630,000 supporters nationwide including numerous medical professionals, pro-life organizations, religious and political groups. 

This article has been reprinted with the author’s permission and can be found at

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