Let’s Be Reasonable About Vaccines

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Birgit - Garden of Hope

Readers, please do not write me off as a rabid “anti-vaxxer,” because I am not opposed to vaccines in general, nor do I dispute their medical efficacy. My kids have received DTAP and all other ethically-sourced vaccines. I only wish to explore the moral choices that we, as Catholics, have to make regarding the use of unethically-sourced vaccines. For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that vaccines do work as intended and do not cause cancer, autism, or anything else of which they are accused. (And please ignore anyone in the combox who tries to make those claims, because God knows there are plenty of other places online to debate that subject.)

I AM NOT ADVOCATING A POSITION FOR OR AGAINST THE USE OF UNETHICALLY-SOURCED VACCINES. All people must make their own decisions for themselves and their families according to the dictates of their own well-formed conscience. I’m simply writing about my own struggle with this issue.

I’ve been troubled recently at the social media vitriol directed toward people who, for whatever reason, have chosen not to vaccinate themselves or their children. I’m also concerned about the vitriol I witness from people who haven’t vaccinated directed toward those who have. I’m especially perplexed when that vitriol is committed by self-professed Catholics and directed toward other Catholics – we’re supposed to be better than that.

I’ve agonized over the issue of the use of unethically-sourced vaccines since I found out about them in 2004, when I was pregnant with my oldest child and started researching vaccines in general. I found the website of Children of God for Life and read about the existence and use of vaccines derived from aborted fetal stem cell lines.

I’ve read the position of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which says that while parents may use the vaccines, and may in some cases even have a moral obligation to do so, there is also the obligation to protest their use and to conscientiously object if necessary.

I’ve read the position of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, in which they state, “There would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious disease, for example, rubella, especially in light of the concern that we should all have for the health of our children, public health, and the common good.”

However, they also say, “There is no moral obligation to register such a complaint in order to use these vaccines.” That is not strictly true, however, according to what the Pontifical Academy of Life says – according to Phil Lawler’s analysis of the statement, people who use the vaccines are in fact morally obligated to object to them as strenuously as possible.

I’ve read Immunity From Evil?: Vaccines Derived from Abortion by Dr. Jameson Taylor, which disagrees with several of the points from the NCBC article as well as gives disturbing background information about the development of the unethical vaccines (for example, development of the rubella vaccine actually involved not just one, but 28 abortions). I was especially troubled by how many institutions have justified conducting research on fetal tissue from aborted babies by invoking the Church’s stance on unethically-sourced vaccines, which is something the NCBC doesn’t mention in their article.

I’ve read Dignitas Personae, which discusses the issue of unethically-sourced vaccines. “Of course, within this general picture there exist differing degrees of responsibility. Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such ‘biological material’. Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available. Moreover, in organizations where cell lines of illicit origin are being utilized, the responsibility of those who make the decision to use them is not the same as that of those who have no voice in such a decision.”

I’ve read what the Catholic Church teaches regarding the formation of conscience.

I’ve read Moral Conscience and Aborted Fetal Vaccines by Bishop Robert F. Vasa.

I’ve signed the petition at Change.org asking Merck et. al. to provide ethically-sourced vaccines.

I’ve written to the vaccine companies, more than once, asking for ethically-sourced vaccines. It seems like a lost cause, though. If thousands of people petition them for ethically-sourced vaccines but those same people buy and use the unethically-sourced ones anyway, why should they take any of us seriously?

I’ve asked all of my children’s doctors if it were possible to procure ethically-sourced vaccines, offering to pay out of pocket if necessary (barring anything prohibitively expensive). I was always told they weren’t able to procure any, even prior to 2009 when they were allegedly available from Merck.

At every check-up, I ask my kids’ doctor if he thinks the risk is significant enough that we need to take recourse to the vaccines. (So far, the answer has been no, but my youngest son’s 15-month well-baby check is coming up in a few weeks and I plan to ask again, given some recent cases in our area.) I don’t take measles lightly; I know it is a serious illness that can have serious complications, and it scares me. But I don’t want to ignore my conscience simply out of fear – that can set a bad precedent.

I have prayed, and prayed, and prayed some more, asking God for guidance as I try to figure this out. I still haven’t received a clear answer.

And yet, over and over again, I’m essentially told I’m an idiot or worse because I’m so conflicted on whether or not to use these vaccines. I guess the assumption is that I haven’t read, studied, researched, or prayed about this issue at all.

This is a plea to all Catholics who feel the need to disdain, insult, abuse, slander, or mock those of us who struggle with this issue.

Please don’t assume we’re ignorant.

Please don’t assume we haven’t done our research.

Please don’t assume that we don’t care about our children, or other children, or the immuno-compromised.

Please do keep in mind the definition of rash judgement, as found in the Catechism: “He becomes guilty… of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor.”

Please do assume that we are all trying to do what is best as parents.

Please do discuss this issue rationally, calmly, and civilly, without resorting to name-calling, ad hominem, or saying that parents who don’t vaccinate for measles are personally at fault for every single measles death in the world (this is an actual accusation I’ve had leveled at me, and I don’t think anyone who is knowledgeable about Catholic moral theology would agree with the accuser).

Please don’t say things like this, from a (public) Facebook thread I participated in this past weekend: “Because nothing says ‘Catholic’ like always looking for the loophole. But I hope your smug, narcissistic pride keeps you warm when your kids and all your friends’ kids are dead thanks to not getting vaccinated.”

It’s also not helpful to accuse me (or anyone else) of deliberately wanting to kill children, as Mark Shea did in that same Facebook conversation: “Your views are a public menace and a threat to the lives of my granddaughters. I don’t take kindly to people who threaten to blind and kill my granddaughters.” I don’t think this is how Catholics should talk with one another.

In the same vein, if you haven’t vaccinated (either partially or fully) due to this issue, please respect the beliefs of whose who have chosen to vaccinate in spite of this issue. The Church has stated that it is licit to take recourse to these vaccines, and in some cases there is a moral obligation to do so. People who choose to use unethically-sourced vaccines are not violating Church teaching, just as those who choose not to use them are not sinning by doing so.

And please join me in praying that ethical vaccines will become available so parents who are not opposed to vaccinating in general don’t have to be in this position in the first place.

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71 thoughts on “Let’s Be Reasonable About Vaccines”

  1. Pingback: What Lurks Behind the Vaccine Mom Wars : Catholic Stand

  2. Dtap uses aborted fetal cell line MRC 5, how is that ethically sourced? As a Catholic this goes against EVERYTHING I believe in! Your whole article lost all substance after the first few lines. Please educate yourself. Why is it so wrong these days to say you are against vaccinations?

  3. Difficult moral questions are WHY we have a National Catholic Bioethics Center and a Pontifical Academy for Life. As Catholics, we don’t have to agonize over these decisions. We don’t have to spend hours in research with our souls hanging in the balance if we get it wrong. We have people with the equivalent of PhD’s in theology, the charism of Holy Orders, and the duty of office to guide us in these issues. If you want a more personal approach, ask a priest whom you trust to guide you.

    1. The problem is that the Pontifical Academy for Life document and the NCBC documents contradict one another. Then you have Catholics (and priests) who interpret them differently. For example, some claim that the PAF says that parents MUST vaccinate and those that do not are deliberately endangering others (i.e., sinning). Others interpret the PAF as saying that parents may conscientiously object to the vaccines and are never sinning if they choose to do so. How do we know who is right?

    2. Both the NCBC and the PAL documents say that it is licit to vaccinate.

      The PAL document urges manufacturers to develop alternative vaccines and urges consumers to use them if available, but if not, then it is licit to vaccinate to preserve public health.

      Personally, I don’t think it ever dawned on those in the Vatican that not vaccinating was an option. Vaccination is NOT controversial among people who remember measles, mumps, rubella, polio, etc. One of St. Gianna’s daughters died of the measles before a vaccine was available, so this is a very serious issue.

      As for who to trust, I am of the “go to your local parish and trust your confessor” school. There are a lot of conspiracy theories and superstitious nonsense on the internet and priests are pretty good at separating the nonsense from the Faith. Priests are like doctors: They aren’t infallible and sometimes a second opinion is beneficial, but on the whole, they know a lot more about their profession than you do. Spending hours on WebMD is no substitute for medical school, nor is pouring over Vatican documents a substitute for seminary.

  4. Bravo, Joanna. I’m truly starting to believe that we are in strange times when God will give only some the light to see the truth and others he will leave in darkness. It’s a mystery enough that so many good Catholics can’t see the moral problem with the unethical vaccines; but for them to ridicule and, yes, persecute other Catholics who feel in conscience that they cannot participate is really astonishing. It’s only a harbinger of things to come. Our biggest (or at least most painful) persecutors, when things really get bad, will be good Catholics like Mark Shea.

  5. Thanks, JoAnna for a thoughtful and charitable discussion. This subject is a personal one for me and my family, and you are very courageous to “stick your arm out ” and tackle this 😉

    God Bless—

  6. Hi JoAnna,
    As a surviver of both rubella and the measles, I would say that this is a whole lot of hullabalu about a minor issue… a straining the gnat and swallowing the camel type episode.
    Thank you JoAnna for reminding us that there are unethically sourced vaccines out there. This in itself should give pause to Catholics criticising other Catholics who have moral objections to them. I would suspect that if everyone were aware of the the unethical sources of some of these vaccines, the landscape of this discussion would be different… at least I hope it would. We seem to have an epidemic of OCD though in straining the gnat and swallowing the camel on side issues these days… a species of insanity I’d say… does anyone know if there is a vaccine for this… an ethical one that is?

    Also, I am sorry that you had to endure those horrible comments. No Mother should be spoken to that way!!!

    1. IMO, Catholics criticizing other Catholics for conscientiously objecting to injecting aborted fetus derived vaccines into their children are driven primarily by guilt. They did it, and you didn’t, and even though you are not judging them for it they take your abstinence as a judgment and attack you viciously for daring to prick their conscience. This is particularly true of the Mark Shea types who use calumny as their weapon of choice (in falsely accusing JoAnna of desiring death and maiming of his grand daughters.) As the saying goes, if you’re not catching flak then you’re not over the target.

  7. Been at this a long time


    You have my sympathy. I just read your article, and then went back and read some of the Facebook thread you linked to. I got caught in a similar situation once with some of the same people who were flinging accusations at you in a fast and furious manner. It reads like a schoolyard bullying; at least, that is how I reading that thread and also when it happened to me awhile back on a different subject over which prudential judgment is allowed by the Church. Truly, I was shocked at the vitriol and sarcasm and tone that supposedly devout Christians, Catholics, took. It is certainly not helpful, and it is certainly very hurtful.

    As to vaccines, I encountered the same situation as you and as some who have commented. I first vaccinated my oldest child blindly, but by the third, there were more and more vaccines that even my first had not received, and I began thinking, “How could these have been tested for long-term safety?” That led me to research and ultimately discover that fetal cells were being used in vaccines. When I discovered that, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I, who had been adamantly and unequivocally pro-life from the age of 13 when Roe was decided, had allowed my babies to be injected with the cells of aborted babies? I was furious and horrified I had not been told what actually went into the vaccines.

    All this was some years ago, but the controversy is apparently back with this new measles outbreak. What is irritating is that lost in this discussion is the fact that measles were eradicated in the US in the year 2000, and have only re-emerged with the influx of illegal immigrants who are not checked and quarantined for disease like any of our immigrant ancestors were. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s husband died in quarantine outside of Italy– those quarantines were real and intended to protect the general population in just such instances as these. Somehow, this issue is not being addressed. Instead, the conversation has been redirected into hammering away at Catholics by other Catholics and some of the populace in general towards those whose consciences have an issue with using the aborted body of a child who had no choice or say in being used for a utilitarian purpose. What have we become? This appears at least to me to be a case of the ends justifying the means. I have read the Vatican statement, and I know we can be allowed to use the vaccines, but in this case, unlike with the pro-contraception crowd’s argument, if our consciences impose a higher duty, we must follow them.

    The vaccine manufacturers have gotten more emboldened, not less, in recent years. The Vatican directed parents that, while they may use the vaccines, they have to advocate for moral vaccines. The direction is exactly the opposite: both a new smallpox and ebola vaccine are being based on fetal cells. Furthermore, there is a rubella vaccine manufactured with fetal cells that has long been available in Japan which the FDA refuses to allow parents to import (we tried many years ago) and Merck, which used to sell separate doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, will no longer do so as of 2009. Does this sound like our Catholic voices are being heard on this issue? Couldn’t some of the passion directed at JoAnna be better directed at those producing the unethical vaccines when ethical means are certainly available?

    Children of God for Life’s website has this and much more information and history on the issue.

    A final observation: so, all the conservatives and religious people screaming for government to enforce mandatory vaccinations are finding themselves wanting to cede that power to a government which allows little to no protection for a child’s first nine months of life in the womb, and in fact protects the barbaric practice of pulling apart a fetus limb by limb. How did we suddenly become so trusting of such an corrupted entity as to give it blanket power to inject ourselves and our children against our wills? Have you not read of the contraceptive elements slipped into vaccines given to our young Catholic sisters in Mexico and the Phillipines before? My experience has been those who have not chosen to take all vaccines have generally tried to inform themselves on the issue, and they should be given at least the recognition of that as well as the acknowledgment of their good will.

    And all this vitriol and defense for vaccines that, in the end, are certainly not without risks, as for instance, the polio vaccine I received as a child that was seeded with the SV40 virus that causes cancer.

    JoAnna, I am sorry if this response was too long or wandered too far off topic. There is just so much to this issue.

  8. Your call for charity is laudable, but I wound’t expect any from the likes of Mark Shea. I know someone who has a personal experience with being “outed” in his blog site. This woman is very active in the pro-life community in the city where we and Mark Shea live. Though she gave no permission for her name to be used in his blog site, he publicized her name anyway. Her house, car, and pro-life signs were subsequently vandalized. I guess what I am saying is that you shouldn’t really feel bad about anything that man says; he is completely self absorbed. I am not trying to be uncharitable but just wanted you to know that this is totally in his MO.

    Delete this if you want to, but I just wanted you to know that he is like the angry old man in the neighborhood yelling at everyone “Get off a my lawn you rotten kids!” No one should take him seriously.

  9. Thank you for that thought provoking article; and I agree we need to be civil (charitable) in all our conversations, and too little is done this way. I am completely opposed to the use of unethical vaccines, those with aborted babies most especially. I have 9 children and I too have been on this journey- my first 3 were vaccinated without asking any questions, I totally trusted my pediatrician. I have come to find out that the ingredients in the vaccines are dangerous, as well as totally unethical. I know my passion has grown from a desire to help my children, to raise them up as God would want me to and to provide a place to know, love and serve Him. So I had to question the role of formaldehyde, aluminium, mercury, embryos, peanut oil, detergent, and cells grown on a tumor in the well being of my child. I have stopped all vaccinations with my children. I would never tell anyone to stop anything without researching first. The worst thing in the world is to have to day “But I didn’t know”.

  10. JoAnna, I appreciate your desire to have a thoughtful, charitable discussion about this. I also understand your concerns; you are right that we should be deeply troubled by the way the MMR vaccine was originally formulated. Your desire to follow Church teaching is obvious.

    Nonetheless, I think one of the things that is lacking from this discussion is the important of prudence. Forgive me for sounding pedantic here, but I think this is crucial: Aquinas says prudence is the queen of all the cardinal virtues–that virtues can only be virtuous if they are prudent, first and last.

    In other words, you may desire justice, purity, fidelity to Church teaching, etc. etc. etc. here, but if your exercise of those things lacks basic prudence, they are essentially empty. Prudence is more than wisdom in discernment–Aquinas (and subsequent scholars like Pieper) show that it is essentially the ability to “pierce through” the cloud of information surrounding an issue, seize on the truth of the situation, and make a swift, practical decision.

    I think some of the frustration that people like Simcha and Mark are expressing also comes from problems in this area in your arguments. It’s good to deliberate an ethical dilemma like this, but prudence means making a CHOICE, and piercing through the issues after brief deliberation (even if you firmly decide not to vaccinate, based on your grasp of the truth of the situation). That doesn’t mean the objective messiness of the situation evaporates, but it does mean that you are at peace, and that you stop assessing and reassessing and communicating your ongoing doubts. Aquinas says the person who cannot make–and implement– a swift decision, and grasp the essence of the matter after some deliberation, is just as lacking in prudence as the person who never deliberates at all, and rushes headlong into things without thinking.

    Anyway, I appreciate your calls for charity, and support you in that 100%. Aquinas would also agree that if we lose charity, we lose all…

    1. Emphasis mine:

      There is no way of grasping the concreteness of a man’s ethical decisions from outside. But no, there is a certain way, a single way: that is through the love of friendship. A friend, and a prudent friend, can help to shape a friend’s decision. He does so by virtue of that love which makes the friend’s problem his own, the friend’s ego his own (so that after all it is not entirely “from outside”). For by virtue of that oneness which love can establish he is able to visualize the concrete situation calling for decision, visualize it from, as it were, the actual center of responsibility. Therefore it is possible for a friend— only for a friend and only for a prudent friend—to help with counsel and direction to shape a friend’s decision or, somewhat in the manner of a judge, help to reshape it.

      Josef Pieper. The Four Cardinal Virtues Prudence Justice Fortitude Temperance, p. 29.

    2. Yes, precisely. That’s why I think JoAnna is right to insist on charity first, and why public debate on these issues (whatever your beliefs) has limited use; no one is going to come to a good decision without the help of a prudent friend.

  11. Judy Freeman Gorham

    I would love to read your article, really I would. But according to Pope Mark only idiots get information from the Internet.

  12. JoAnna, there was a part of your argument that didn’t get explained. As you point out, the Pontifical Academy for Life (on behalf of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith) concluded that it is sometimes morally obligatory to use some tainted vaccines, and not just protest against them. I.e. it would be sinful not to use them, except for some personal medical reason. They give the rubella vaccine as a specific example of such a vaccine. Yet it is not clear how that factored into your subsequent thinking.

    If it were me and the Vatican made a specific ruling that settled an issue over which I had previously agonized, I would be very happy and no longer agonize. What prevented that from happening with you?

    1. I have absolutely no idea how that answers my question.

      But I do note that you are already acting so as to take advantage of the vaccine — the fact that there is (currently) no significant risk to your children is precisely because of the herd immunity that the vaccine has caused.

    2. Yes, and — you’ve ended up in a situation where you’ve exchanged one remote material cooperation with an evil for a different one. Failing to take an available vaccine means cooperating with the spread of disease (by avoiding direct immunity and herd immunity). It’s a remote kind of cooperation because you’re not actively spreading the disease, but still doing something that fails to prevent the spread of its harm.

      Unavoidably, there are two goods to be balanced here: one good is trying not to benefit from something unethical, and asking for the development of something more ethical. The other good is contributing to the prevention of harm from dangerous diseases. There is a decision to be made on which good is greater.

      The PAL’s argument comes to a conclusion: “…the burden of this important battle cannot and must not fall on innocent children and on the health situation of the population — especially with regard to pregnant women.”

    3. I read your post, and I must disagree. The cooperation with evil in terms of vaccines can’t be “unintentional” if the parents are informed about the origins of the vaccines. If they are not, then their cooperation is indeed unintentional. But if I choose to use these vaccines, I am intentionally, albeit reluctantly, engaging in remote material cooperation with evil, even if I wish I were not.

    4. No. If an action is performed that causes both a good effect and a bad effect, and even if the bad effect is fully foreseen and fully anticipated before the action, it can still be morally permissible to perform the action for the sake of the good effect.

      The Church has, for a long time now, used the Principle of Double Effect in examining and verifying the possibility of these kinds of actions. (More can be found about the Principle here.) The Church has been developing and using this principle since at least the time of Saint Thomas Aquinas (in the thirteenth century).

      So in the case of vaccination the good effect is the contribution to avoiding serious health effects, up to and including multiple deaths of the unborn. The bad effect is (e.g.) remote material cooperation with an evil. In the current cases of vaccination (unless there is some specific medical contra-indication against vaccination for some kinds of individual) the good outweighs the evil. And that applies, in this case, even if the evil is a material cooperation that is fully foreseen. Being informed beforehand of the origins of the vaccines doesn’t make any significant difference to this decision.

      Where the Vatican statement says: Material cooperation can sometimes be illicit (depending on the conditions of the “double effect” or “indirect voluntary” action), a double-effect analysis is what it is referring to.

    5. Not so. The PAL treats two different situations in consecutive paragraphs. In the first (beginning “Therefore, doctors…”) it deals with the case where it is possible to complain and resist against unethical vaccines, so as to promote acceptable ones. Then in the following paragraph it turns to deal with the case where no acceptable vaccine is available or within sight.

      It is certainly true that in the first situation it recommends conscientious objection, if necessary. But in the second, it states quite clearly that abstaining from the vaccine is only right if it is possible without causing children and the general population significant risk.

      We are definitely in the second situation, with no available acceptable vaccine, and none within sight. And for rubella there is no acceptable way of avoiding the risk except by vaccination. Getting infected with rubella in pregnancy is extremely serious for the child. (And the risk is not much better for measles — one study showed that half of women who got infected with measles in the first two months of pregnancy lost the child.) Importantly, for both rubella and measles, the infected person is typically infectious for some time before they know they have been infected. There is no reasonable way of avoiding these significant risks. And that is exactly why the PAL’s statement applies — that it is then not right to abstain from vaccination.

  13. Pingback: Herd Immunity and Theological Anthropology: A Catholic Case for Vaccinating Your Children | Catholic Moral Theology

  14. Measles and mumps are miserable illnesses, even before you discuss possible complications. Parents who choose not to vax are, in some ways, stating that they want their children to become sick. Indeed, a few actually say that, maintaining that it strengthens their immune system. Why would you want your children to become sick? If you gave your child a poison, it would be a crime. How is allowing your child to become ill from a preventable disease a moral or ethical choice.

    In addition, there are many in our world who cannot be vaccinated. Some are infants while others have compromised immune systems. You may choose to bear the burden of a vaccine preventable illness or impose it on your children, but what gives you the moral or ethical right to infect someone who cannot be immunized?

    Which is morally right? I choose protecting others from a preventable illness over scrupulous quibbling about the origins of vaccines. If my neighbor’s baby died because she caught measles from me, would God pat me on the back for not being vaccinated with a sin-tainted product?

    1. “Parents who choose not to vax are, in some ways, stating that they want their children to become sick.”
      No, we’re not. I’m in the same camp as JoAnna, I want ethical alternatives. That doesn’t make me anti-vax or wanting my children to be sick anymore than a parent whose child has cancer cannot immunize that child. They can’t immunize because of a medical reason. JoAnna and I can’t because it violates our conscience. That doesn’t mean we want our children to be sick.

      “How is allowing your child to become ill from a preventable disease a moral or ethical choice.”
      We aren’t allowing our children to be sick. I don’t know of any parent who gives their child a cold or allows them to catch one. Do you? While I understand there are those who have chicken pox parties, JoAnna and myself (to my knowledge) are not among them.

      “…what gives you the moral or ethical right to infect someone who cannot be immunized?” JoAnna and myself (again to my knowledge) are not purposely infecting anyone. I take steps to prevent infections of any kind by keeping my children home when they are sick and following good hygiene practices. Vaccines are only one method to reduce the spread of contagion. How affective they are varies with what type of vaccine they are.

      “Which is morally right? I choose protecting others from a preventable illness over scrupulous quibbling about the origins of vaccines.”
      Actually they both are morally right. One can choose the added boost of vaccinations for the sake of their neighbor and/or show concern/take a stand for the lost life and lost dignity over their aborted neighbor who was used for vaccines. They both are charitable. Choosing not to take the vaccine is a conscience decision that involves the current environment one lives in. In some ways it’s a numbers game. The number of those who have died from measles (which is tragic) is a small number. The continued use of a person’s body to derive tons of vaccines is equally tragic.

      “If my neighbor’s baby died because she caught measles from me, would God pat me on the back for not being vaccinated with a sin-tainted product?”
      The decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate is an agonizing decision. Following one’s well-formed conscience can never lead you astray. The key here is well-formed. JoAnna and myself continue to keep ourselves advised about contagions in our area. If it were necessary, I would remove my son from school and keep both my children at home. I would avoid small children. As I said, nobody here is for spreading disease, but unfortunately physical evil occurs naturally and is not so easy to avoid. Would God punish you for being unable to avoid physical evil? Would He want you to violate your conscience? Those are better questions to ask yourself.

    2. I agree with everything here. Thanks for your clear thoughts on this.

      Adding another element ….

      My son just happens to be a victim of vaccines. His disability is profound and can’t be explained by doctors, tests, or any one/thing except by a tainted vaccine. Having had to live with the “guilt” of subjecting our child to such damage, and having “trusted” the medical establishment to take of him and his health, in this regard, not one person
      over the years–doctor, politician, family, teacher, family, etc. has ever “thanked” us for
      the “sacrifice” of our son…..sacrificing in that we had him vaccinated so as to protect the herd, protect the common good. His life was dramatically changed as a result of the Dtap and MMR shot. We are met with only silence, sad looks, and obviously we are not on many peoples’ lists to invite to parties or social functions. The evidence is just to hard to look at or talk about.

      “The decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate is an agonizing decision.
      Following one’s well-formed conscience can never lead you astray. The
      key here is well-formed.” Exactly!!!

  15. Please be aware, the g o v t protects vaccines manufacturers. As a parent you are not allowed to sue any of them if your child is damaged or killed by a vaccine. There is a special vaccine court that has a long arduous process if you try to seek justice. As of now, 2 former employees are suing Merck as whistle blowers revealing illegal practices in how they conduct research and the lies they put forth all in the name or profits. We have many unethical problems with vaccines. You can’t ethically prove vaccines work. There are too many variables to manage. You can’t ethically prove herd immunity exists. We do not vaccinate for anything in our family. I am aware there are homeopathic products that help immunize the body, but we have relied on high quality supplements, common sense diet, and chiropractic. I am thankful we still have protected civil rights to refuse unwanted medical care.

    1. Lisa, I specifically requested in the first paragraph of my piece that this kind of discussion not take place here. It’s outside the scope of this piece and there are plenty other places to debate it.

    2. You must include all unethical aspects or you are deceiving your self. I say this with all kindness. God abhors the lies the vaccine industry promulgates. Fetal cell use is not the only unethical practice. I have remained within your topic.

  16. I have no idea if you’re addressing me, or why on earth you are getting so worked up. I meant, IN GENERAL, I don’t enjoy snark, not from Mark, not from anyone. Truly, that’s all. I was certainly not accusing you, whoever you are.

    I’m not canonizing Mark, but I don’t think it’s fair to say he’s “no saint” because he takes an approach we find distasteful, the same approach shown over and over again by a well-known cantankerous man named Jerome. You may not like his approach (just as I often don’t, as well!), but I can certainly imagine that it’s possible, considering his “snark” surrounds Catholic/moral subjects of deep importance to him, he’s coming from a place of good intention.

  17. Pingback: Vaccination Needs to Remain a Prudential Decision | ... and these Thy gifts ...

  18. Pingback: Let’s Be Reasonable About Vaccines - BigPulpit.com

  19. Jennifer Hartline

    Thank you, JoAnna. I sincerely hope Mark Shea and a few other notable Catholic bloggers read your piece and cease in the arrogant, snarky insults and shaming. It’s got to stop. Your article is articulate, thoughtful, and reasoned.

    1. It’s shameful that Mark Shea would be so ugly in his comments. Does he understand that what he is doing is sinful? Leading a charge of other Catholics attacking Jo Anna with insults and hate?

      What Mark has done is create a mob-mentality.

      His actions are nothing more than bullying. That’s what bully’s do.

      He is so academically intelligent, yet emotionally immature to see that his actions, instead of constructively engaging in a mature conversation, hurts and nearly destroys a persons emotions and reputation?

      No temperance in his words, no kindness or charity in his statements.

      And this isn’t the first time he’s done this, and the blame doesn’t stop at his feet either, those that jump in in a feeding frenzy of vile invectives are no saints. This happens one too many times from someone who should know better.

    2. “Those that jump in a feeding frenzy of vile invectives are no saints.” Perhaps you remember Saint Jerome?

    3. No, I’m saying that it’s probably not a good idea to judge Mark as being “unsaintly.” For me personally, no, I don’t like it when people take a snarky, overly sarcastic, often rude attitude towards people who disagree with them, but I don’t think we can or should presume their state of soul. Perhaps they are coming from a place of righteous indignation, where they feel there is a terrible injustice taking place. Jerome’s prickly attitude scandalized a lot of people in his day, but he’s still a Saint.

    4. and then there is that snarky St Paul: Who did he think he was, accursin’ good folks? And then, of course, what about God inspiring him to write these cursings? Galatians: ” I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Guy McClung, San Antonio

  20. JoAnna, thanks for the great synopsis. I do really think it is great, but I also think there is something left to be addressed…

    “the Pontifical Academy for Life, which says that while parents may use the vaccines, and may in some cases even have a moral obligation to do so…”


    “The Church has stated that it is licit to take recourse to these vaccines, and in some cases there is a moral obligation to do so.”

    So, we have to ask, “Under what circumstances is there a moral obligation to utilize vaccines of illicit origin?”

    1. The answer is, it depends. This is why the Church doesn’t make a blanket statement (e.g., everyone should get the XYZ vaccine). There are so many different criteria involved in that decision. Colin Donovan, a theologian at EWTN, said it well in the combox of the National Catholic Register:

      “This article [from the Register] does a good job of mentioning the general principles, citing the Pontifical Academy for Life and the National Catholic Bioethics Center, regarding the permissability of material cooperation in abortion at the remote degree required for vaccines, as well as the general obligation for the common good when a remedy for the dangers of communicable disease are at hand.

      However, general principles do not always apply to all particular cases. Unlike a negative obligation (“Thou shalt not…”), a positive one (“go to Mass on Sunday, fight for one’s country, get vaccinated for oneself, ones family and the common good), admits of exceptions based on impossibility of one kind or another. These can be physical ones, like sickness, snow or distance on Sunday, or moral ones, such as concerns of conscience about fighting in a war.

      Such judgments are, of course, fraught with moral responsibility, personal responsibility, that cannot be reduced in Catholic moral teaching to a universal, exceptionless, positive obligation to vaccinate. I agree, therefore, with the opinion expressed here by Barbara Loe Fischer about the “shame and blame” game that surrounds such discussions. Not only do they inadequately express Catholic moral teaching on the application of general principles to particular cases, but they attempt to coerce the consciences of others, contrary to charity.”

      http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/measles-are-making-a-comeback-so-what-does-the-church-teach-about-vaccines, Posted by Colin Donovan on Thursday, Jan 29, 2015 11:03 AM (EST)

    2. I appreciate your response, JoAnna, but we kinda talked past each other. The answer to the question, “Do I have a moral obligation to give my child vaccine X,” is, “It depends.” This is the same as saying, “Yes, but there’s a chance you might be exempt.” Then we ask, “Upon what does it depend?” And the answer to that is, “circumstances.” Circumstances might excuse you from a moral obligation for a time.

      From there, we can explore what circumstances might excuse one from a moral obligation to give vaccine X. Certainly, a reasonable expectation of harm caused by the vaccine would constitute a circumstantial excuse, as would an exorbitant, unmanageable cost…

  21. JoAnna – Thank you for writing this. This issue has become crazy. And those of us who are reading and watching and praying and pondering continuously are being called, basically, murderers. The debate has jumped outside the realm of logic and I don’t understand it. People I formally thought were even-tempered libertarians – have suddenly become rabid statists – ready to pull my kids to the doctors office and inject them with every vaccine known to man, and put me in prison. People who I know to be extreme liberals – who believe in Freedom of Choice to kill their unborn children, would deny me the right to refuse a medical procedure for myself and my children because of the mere 1 in a million chance that THEIR CHILD may contract an illness. This issue has NO political boundaries. Republican, Democrat, Libertarian–it’s insane. Mostly, in public now, I try to just keep my mouth shut. Because people don’t want reasonable debate, they want a town square witch trial.

  22. Birgit Atherton Jones

    Thank you for a clear-headed and carefully sourced column. I’m sharing. As for me, I’ve done it all. I’ve blindly vaccinated because I didn’t realize the ‘biological’ ingredients in some vaccines. BTW, my daughter had a severe reaction to one of them. When I did become aware, I selectively vaccinated – and educated doctors, nurses, and our Catholic school about vaccines (and conscientious objection) in the process. Now I encourage my daughter and daughter-in-law to at least vaccinate at a slower pace – 5+ shots at one time can’t be healthy. We also advocate for taking a pass on the unethical vaccines – especially those that aren’t urgently necessary.

    1. “5+ shots at one time can’t be healthy”. Sorry but you display a misunderstanding of how the human immune system works. It is able to develop antibodies to an almost infinite number of foreign proteins, has done so for millions of them by the time you grow up, even if you have never had a vaccine. Young children probably form antibodies to scores of different antigens every day. Another 5 (which he is going to develop sooner or later anyway) make no difference. Prompting it with extra antigens doesn’t weaken the immune system , it stimulates it, to produce the antigens which protect us.

    2. While in theory the normal immune system is capable of developing antibodies to a seemingly infinite (more like 10,000 per mL of blood), adding vaccines with their multiple intentional antigens as well as the unintentional antigens can indeed lead to problems. Researchers in Japan have injected mice with vaccines on varying schedules and found that those mice developed autoimmune diseases like lupus. Additionally, research has shown that immunity titers are not as consistent as believed previously. The repeated dosages are necessary in some individuals, but not in others – in fact, it is downright contraindicated in some individuals.

      While the dosages and components of vaccines are slightly less objectionable in some ways than in the past, today’s vaccines still carry significant risks to significant portions of the population with the unintentional antigens and other components included in their formulations. Adding these intentional and unintentional antigens to the already phenomenal amount children are exposed to in such a short time period could stretch the immune system more than we know. It is impossible to know which children’s systems will be over stretched and which will not.

      A staggering number of people have one of several mutations that does not allow their body to clear heavy metals from their system in a prompt ‘normal’ fashion (MTHFR is one). When these heavy metals build up in the system irreparable damage can be done to cells – including nerve cells. Studies have shown that most individuals within the autism spectrum have one or more of these mutations. Some of these individuals did not display classic symptoms of the autism disorders until well after the ‘usual’ window of time. However, the vaccination schedule and accumulated heavy metal dosages from the environment as well as vaccines could explain the delayed onset of such problems. Often, children are not tested for these mutations until the damage has already been done and is irreversible.

      Additionally, aborted fetal cells and the debris left as artifacts – not necessarily mentioned on the vaccine inserts, but acknowledged by manufacturers and researchers – can cause their own problems. The debris can range from fragments of DNA, RNA, proteins, to complete cell components like mitochondria. Fragments of DNA can easily be incorporated into anyone’s cells at any time in their life. These fragments can disrupt normal genes, become proto-oncogenes, and generally muck up the normal cell. At any point in life, all it takes is for one cell to ‘turn rogue’ and skip by the body’s natural defenses – perhaps because they’re focused on the other things forced upon them – and become a deadly cancer. Until that one microscopic cell creates a mass of sister cells – and by then it is too late – no one knows which child will be the unlucky one who’s system didn’t catch the errant foreign DNA.

      Basically, all these multi-valent vaccines sound like a great advance of science, but they also require significant reflection prior to blindly accepting all we are asked to accept. There are enough well-versed immunology scientists that suggest further investigation into vaccines to warrant a look from parents willing to err on the side of caution. There should be no concern with parents who desire to vaccinate, but on a more leisurely schedule. Nor should there be a call to arms against parents who investigate and find the risks outweigh the benefits for their children. By the time your child is the statistic denied by the CDC, AAP, vaccine companies, etc it is too late to save them.

      FYI I have a degree in Molecular Biology. I did research under the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in both Embryology/Developmental Biology and Microbiology/Virology. I worked as a Forensic Biologist for the state police. I did not give website references because you can use what I wrote to do your own searching if you are so inclined. I am also a cradle Catholic who respects all Life from the womb to the tomb. I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I do enjoy investigating the science while respecting the ethics and morality of the Church. I do not find it a conflict at all to do so. If/when science begins to tread on ethics and/or morality, I examine the reason behind the science, it’s future purpose, examine the reason for the ethical and/or moral dilemma, and most often side with morals and ethics.

    3. “It is impossible to know which children’s systems will be over stretched and which will not.” and yet it’s perfectly reasonable to look at the metadata and conclude that the overall risk factors (which are incredibly minor) of vaccines are far out-stripped by the risk factor of the disease(‘s) that they have evidence efficacy against.

      It really doesn’t matter if you have a degree in molecular biology or not, your views are wrong and derived from a dogmatic approach to the issues.

      You go on to talk about embryos and the protection you would afford them as human life. Please, define human life, provide evidence for conciousness at that level, explain to me how it differs from an amoeba, explain to me whether Homo neanderthalensis had a soul or not, if not at which point during Homo sapiens evolution from Homo erectus in Africa 150,000-200,000 years ago did we acquire a soul?

    4. You claim the risk factors are incredibly minor, but they aren’t for people who are known carriers of genetic mutations like MTHFR and their children.

      Many of the diseases claimed as horrific are incredibly survivable in this day and age of sanitation, antibiotics, and symptomatic care. Many of these diseases, just a generation ago, were simply childhood diseases that resulted in absence from school, but no real long-lasting harm. Even full vaccination according to the CDC schedule isn’t a magic bullet against these diseases as the measles outbreak proves – 3 of the 4 initial cases were in fully vaccinated individuals.

      Since our discussion here primarily involves single celled organisms like bacteria and viruses that we consider alive, I would say that using the same criteria we use to categorize them as alive should work for human life. Bacteria possess metabolic cellular components themselves – so do embryos immediately upon conception, but viruses do not, they must use their host’s components to do so. Bacteria are capable if self-replication/multiplication – so are embryos immediately upon conception, but viruses again must use their host’s components to do so. All three – bacteria, viruses, and embryos immediately after conception – have a completely unique genetic blueprint of their own. Of the three, the only one not meeting the requirements for life is the virus, but most people consider them living regardless.

      As for human-ness, obviously you don’t believe an embryo any different from an amoeba. However, an amoeba will never be a human. Consciousness is a psychological term that does not seem to have a concrete definition. Do plants have consciousness? Dogs? Cats? People in a coma? People under anesthesia? Consciousness is dynamic. Humans are humans due to genetics as well as the inclusion of a soul. When God chose to put that soul into human-kind, I don’t claim to know, nor does it really matter. Humans in any form deserve dignity, respect, and a chance of life. If you choose to define who deserves respect, dignity, and a chance of life based in your definition of consciousness that is your right, but it doesn’t make you right. Since you are human, I respect your right to life and give you the dignity you deserve.

    5. First of all, those who are anti-vaccination and against all vaccinations, it has nothing to do with their survivability. If a vaccine became present for Yersinia pestis, Bacillus anthracis, all forms of hepatitus, HIV, ebola, Streptococcus, Pseudomonas would you support them? Infectious disease remain the primary cause of death worldwide and certainly in intensive care environments and I propose you would very oppose such vaccines too, vaccines against very much not survivable infectious agents. Which brings me to my next point, measles. Herd immunity protects those too young to be vaccinated to whom it’s oft not survivable, so that point is bullshit in the first place.

      For you to cite the measles outbreak is flatly disgraceful, it was a direct result of lack of vaccination, not despite it –something you’re advocating. It’s nonsensical at any rate to say something isn’t 100% so let’s abandon it altogether –I suppose we should abandon seatbelts, all start smoking and get rid of antibiotics too? Of course not.

      On embryos, you’ve advocated antibiotics and in the next paragraph equivocated bacteria and embryos; I’m perfectly aware that they are living cells but this completely avoids the well understood knowledge regarding sentience. By your false equivalence it would be deemed literal murder to use antibiotics, which you have already admitted in advocating them, to not be equivalent.

      I agree that consciousness is a difficult concept but we know the basics, amoebas are not conscious beings and there is a clear hierarchy of consciousness according to the potential range of harm an organism can be exposed to. This however, is a larger and really separate conversation.

      To look at that complexity, that discussion and conclude that humans of all forms deserve dignity is flatly untrue. If an embryo is of equivalent sentience to a bacteria then it should not enjoy the same rights as an actual human, or bacteria too, should be awarded these rights; you have to be consistent.

      Before you say, ‘oh but a bacteria would never become a human’ well what of the transformative research going on in stem cells? and in reversing human cells to stem cells, once a breakthrough here is made are you going to afford the same protection to one’s skin cells and protest against abrasion? Of course not. It must pertain to the current state of the organism, not potential.

    6. No, you’re being deliberately obtuse. I equivilated viruses, bacteria, and embryos on the basis of being alive – not on whether they were sentient. The characteristics I listed had nothing to do with consciousness. That is a phsychological term that cannot really be determined as I said earlier. However, what can be determined is whether human embryos from their very conception are human. Since they contain human DNA and when allowed to grow unmolested develop into a human, the answer must be yes. They aren’t viruses or bacteria to be killed off with antimicrobials. They aren’t the result of a mistake in cell replication like a tumor (cancer) to be killed off by chemotheraputic agents. While the DNA of a newly conceived human does differ from it’s mother, it is not of a different species to imply a parasitic relationship. A newly conceived human is actually proof of the human body working exactly as it has been designed. When a male and female endangered species in a zoo cannot conceive, the zookeepers aren’t overjoyed, they are concerned because the lack of conception indicates a pathology. However, if that male and female pair conceives and the female carries the young to birth, the female is considered to be in good health. Only in humans do we consider things the opposite. From the moment of conception, any offspring is a full member of whatever species it’s parents belong. Regardless of whether the parents are bacteria, amoeba, we fish, fowl, beasts of burden, chimps, or humans the offspring from conception will be the same as the parents. The moment of consciousness doesn’t really matter. Just as the matter of ensoulment doesn’t matter. Human life trumps other forms of life – from the womb to natural death. Human life – even single celled embryos – should never be treated with anything but the same amount of respect, dignity

    7. Yes, but your equivocation of bacteria, embryos and viruses (the latter of which, is not alive), was in response to my logical claim that an embryo is no more a human in its current state than a bacteria –a claim you appear in principle to agree with and then draw a completely bias conclusion which flies in the face of the evidence.

      “Since they contain human DNA and when allowed to grow unmolested develop into a human, the answer must be yes. ” So once fully committed skin cells can be ‘reversed’ as to be totipotent you would provide them the same rights as ‘potential humans’ of course not. The potential human argument falls flat, focus should instead be at what point of development can it be considered human –that’s clearly not going to be at the equivalent developmental stage as a bacteria. As you’ve pointed out, the human genome is also littered with foreign DNA, fossils of interactions with viruses, so what is ‘human DNA’? What percentage of said embryos genome would you designate as ‘potential human’.

      We don’t consider fertility to be unhealthy…

      “Human life trumps other forms of life – from the womb to natural death” I agree, but then consciousness absolutely does matter. Otherwise an embryo is physically equivalent to an amoeba. The only way to wriggle away from the science of animal development and how it erodes pro life views is to pretend that there is instead a soul, itself an incongruent concept due to understanding of evolution and cognitive neuroscience.

      I’m not being obtuse whatsoever. As usual, the faithful side of this argument, knowing in reality that it’s wrong, is desperately seeking a grey area to hide in.

    8. Also “Fragments of DNA can easily be incorporated into anyone’s cells at any time in their life” no they can’t. That’s ridiculous.

    9. Please do some investigating on all the ‘extra’ DNA in the human (and most organisms’) DNA. All that extra DNA came from somewhere and that somewhere just happens to be from DNA fragments from viruses and bacteria. Many viruses carry special enzymes and proteins that specifically allow them to incorporate themselves into their host cell’s genome for replication purposes. Any extra cellular DNA that is present while those same enzymes and proteins are present can also be incorporated into the genome. It happens much more frequently than you’d like to think.

    10. No, it really doesn’t and there isn’t a single piece of evidence, not a single scientific paper which demonstrates that a single retrovirus has incorporated itself into the human genome as the result of a vaccine.

      It’s incredibly easy to get rid of this extra material and even easier to get rid of reverse transcriptase.

      No investigation on that point is needed from me, it would be you making unsubstantiated claims that bears the burden of proof.

      Attenuated vaccines or antigen based vaccines no more have the capacity to transpose than they do infect.

    11. First, I said the human genome already has incorporated viral DNA in it. Here’s an article from an unbiased source agreeing with me. http://genomebiology.com/2001/2/6/REVIEWS/1017 Heres another article with examples of currently known retroviruses and even a list at the bottom of pathogenic conditions they cause.

      Since, as you indicted very early in this discussion we are constantly inundated with antigens like viruses and bacteria, there are bound to be some that are also capable of incorporating themselves into the genome attacking our systems at the time of vaccination. Therefore, any foreign DNA that just happens to be floating around could very easily be incorporated into the genome by the same mechanism that is obviously well known an accepted above. It’s not a huge leap of logic. Apparently the FDA agrees with me in their article here http://www.fda.gov/biologicsbloodvaccines/scienceresearch/biologicsresearchareas/ucm127327.htm

  23. Dear JoAnna-This is just what is needed to start this conversation-facts and more facts. Thank you. Check out the film THE GREATER GOOD and then do a follow up, it may be entitled: Vaccine$s. Guy McClung, San Antonio
    ps-we too have minimum two saints in heaven-perhaps we should get them together to play with each other. I really think this is a good thought and good attitude-not the this-earth-every-funeral canonization of everyone, but the acknowledgement of those who were baptized and who never sinned-we know they are saints

    1. My two children were lost to miscarriage so were never baptized, but I continue to trust in God’s great mercy per their salvation. I do not know, but I have great hope, and I will persist in that hope until the day I meet God (at which time I will know for sure).

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