A Christian Response to Coronavirus Vaccines
Ps. Matt Johnson – South Sydney Anglican Church (www.ssac.net.au)
Rev 18:23 By your pharmakeia all the nations were led astray.
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The Immediate Context
Sydney Australia is currently in an extended lockdown because of coronavirus. The country has a limited supply of the Pfizer vaccine and an extensive supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Currently, most Australians would prefer to get Pfizer, because the Government decided for a time, that AstraZeneca was causing too many blood clots. Now the virus is spreading so rapidly, the risk of blood clots (< 0.25%) is a lower risk than death by coronavirus (2.1%). New South Wales is now being strongly encouraged to accept AstraZeneca. In such a context and with little time to think many Christians are rightly concerned that the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may be ethically compromised with material derived from aborted foetuses. This question is worthy of consideration.
This paper is working from the traditional Christian belief that human life begins at conception and will assume that to be true. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic most Christians were unaware that large pharmaceutical companies were using foetal stem cells from aborted babies to produce vaccines. As a pro-life advocate, who detests abortions I was alarmed to discover that since the 1970’s aborted stem cells have been used to produce vaccines for rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A, shingles, hemophilia, rheumatoid arthritis and cystic fibrosis. No doubt, my children, have had many of these vaccines which now makes me complicit in something that my conscience still finds morally detestable. I praise God for his Son the Lord Jesus Christ and his death for my sins. I am thankful that forgiveness is available to even the worst of sinners. Yet, I want to honour Jesus with my life, both as a pastor and a Christian.
It was the letter from Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies (plus Catholic and Orthodox Archbishops) to the Prime Minister on the 20th August 2020, that made me aware of the vaccine issue. Glenn stated that the manufacture of the vaccines would (or should) be an issue of conscience for many Christians getting an AstraZeneca vaccine. He stated;
While we accept that the proposed vaccine may be sufficiently remote from the abortion that occasioned the derivation of the cell-line, we flag to you that any COVID-19 vaccine cultured on a foetal cell-line will raise serious issues of conscience for a proportion of our population.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison was dismissive of such concerns. But shortly thereafter an ethically viable option seemed to emerge with the Pfizer vaccine. Christians were told that Pfizer and Moderna were ethical options that should cause no concern for Christian consciences. Although AstraZeneca is made with foetal stem cells from an aborted baby, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were only tested in foetal stem cells from an aborted baby, for both efficacy and unintended side-effects. But does this distinction make Pfizer and Moderna ethical?
Modern Medicene & Christian Ethics
The principle that God extends common grace to all people, both believers and unbelievers alike, means God has given people gifts for the general good of humanity. This includes principles of engineering, mathematics, music and science that can be used for human good and enjoyment. Medical science is one such gift that believers are meant to use and benefit from when used and produced in morally acceptable ways. The proper use of pharmaceuticals certainly does not infringe on biblical ethics, but rather should be viewed as sometimes being the means God chooses to bring healing. God fearing Jews recognized that medicine came from God’s hand and praise him for the blessing (Sir.6:4-8). Scientific developments and advancements in pharmaceuticals should continue to be recognized by Christians as blessings that God sometimes uses to bring the healing we desire.
God has been pleased for us to live in a time of advanced medicine, which should be considered a gift of His common grace. But these advances in medicine can only be freely embraced by Christians if they do not undermine biblical ethics. Yet, many Christians have become aware, for the first time, that vaccines have been made from or tested in aborted foetal stem cells. Comprehending this truth and then trying to think clearly about it in the midst of conspiracy theories, state pressure, fear and competing biblical views is not straightforward. When there are no clear commands in Scripture for or against vaccines Christian ethics can be complicated.
All the vaccines currently availble in Australia have been “made with” or “tested in” human foetal stem cells from aborted babies. Foetal stem cells are used at three main stages of development; 1) design & devlopment, 2) production and 3) confirmatory lab tests. Tne attached PDF shows at which stage of vaccine development HEK293 and PER.C6 were used in the production of all the main vaccines. The HEK293 stem cells used in the manufacture of Astrazeneca, Pfizer and Moderna come from kidney cells from a baby aborted in the Netherlands in 1972. Astrazeneca is made with HEK293 aborted stem cells, while Pfizer and Moderna are tested in HEK293 aborted stem cells in comfirmatory lab tests. Johnson & Johnson and Jansen are vaccines made with PER.C6 stem cells that were made with the retina of a little boy aborted in 1985.
Dr Alex van de Eb from Leiden University is the man responsible for creating both HEK293 and PER.C6 cell lines. In a presentation to the Food and Drug Administration (USA) in the Holiday Inn Gaitherberg on the 16th May 2001 he states about HEK293; “the kidney material, the fetal kidney material was as follows. The kidney of the fetus was, with an unknown family history, was obtained in 1972 probably. The precise date is not known anymore. The fetus, as far as I can remember was completely normal. Nothing was wrong. The reasons for the abortion were unknown to me.”
In the same Gaitherberg presentation Dr van de Eb talked about PER.C6 saying; “So I isolated retina from a fetus, from a healthy fetus as far as could be seen, of 18 weeks old. There was nothing special with a family history or the pregnancy was completely normal up to the 18 weeks, and it turned out to be a socially indicated abortus’, abortus provocatus, and that was simply because the woman wanted to get rid of the fetus. We got this. There was permission, et cetera, and that was, however, was in 1985, ten years before this. This shows that the cells were isolated in October 85, Leiden University, in my lab.
The Catholic church has taught that there is a distinction between medicines “made with aborted stem cells” versus “tested in aborted stem cells”. They made this distinction in Catholicism to draw a kind of line in the sand for pharmaceutical companies. By the time the church became aware that HEK293 was being used in medicine it was hard to get the pharmaceutical companies to backtrack. The Church realised it would also be hard to get faithful Catholics to give up medicines that they were already taking or had used to vaccinate their children. Yet, the church was adamant that the abortion from which these stem cells were derived was wrong. Consequently, in protest towards the unethical origin of these stem cells many Catholic Christians opted to be ethical anti-vaxers when it came to vaccines made from aborted stem cells, but accepted those vaccines tested in aborted stem cells, if no alternative was available.
The distinction made by Catholic ethicists of whether a vaccine is made with HEK293 stem cells (AstraZeneca) or tested in HEK293 stem cells (Pfizer/Moderna) seems like an abitrary distinction driven by pragmatics. But sadly, I am recognizing, it might be a distinction that Christians are forced to live with in the forseeable future. At present, nearly all the pharmaceuticals in the average Australian medicine cabinet, including paracetomol, have been tested with HEK293. Many womens cosmetics are tested with HEK293 and even some of the products in our fridge. I only became aware of this reality in recent weeks to great alarm. This reality should cause grief, wailing and sackcloth. In a recent sermon by John Piper entitled “Can I take Vaccines made From Aborted Babies” he rightly recognizes that the babies from which HEK293, PER.C6, let me also add WI-38, MRC-5, Walvax (and another 804 registered hESC lines) are all derived from murdered babies. They were not willing donors or consenting participants in the process. The babies of HEK293, PER.C6, WI-38 & MRC-5 were all murdered in abortion clinics and then sent to pharmaceutical companies.
Modern medicine is no longer a pure life preserver. It is now in the business of death and perversion of God-designed humanity. Some common examples include the the abortive drug mifepristone often marketed as RU-486. In Canada, the normal method for physician assisted suicide is midazolam followed by propofol and a neuromuscular relaxant. Then there are also the puberty blockers of histrelin acetate and leuprolide acetate for the multitude of young children now suffering from gender dysphoria. Our modern world rejoices that these medicines are all highly effective at producing the desired results. Yet, biblical Christians need to acknowledge that the desired outcomes of these pharmaceuticals are all death, not life. They are contradictory to God’s word. They cannot be considered ethical options for Christians.
The reason Christians recognize that the use of some pharmaceuticals is sinful is that the medicines often disregard basic biblical principles relating to the sanctity of life, both in their use and in their production. Until recently the pharmacetical companies were as ethical as any corporation intent on profit. Even the production of HEK293 and PER.C6 did not come from babies the pharmaceutical companies killed themselves, but from babies aborted by medical clinics. The details of exactly how the pharmaceutical companies procured the aborted foetuses is no longer clear. But the reasonable conclusion, is that the pharmaceutical companies were not the ones who conducted or encouraged the abortion. The pharmaceutical companies were simply conducting experimental science on a baby aborted by others, in much the same way as they might conduct experimental science on an adult cadaver. The knowledge and stem-cells gained by this experimentation led to the development of HEK293, PER.C6 and other foetal cell lines. The abortion was wrong, but the science that gained and replicated the stem cells was not necessarily wrong.
Many Christians may want to reject the coronavirus vaccines because of this ethical concern. I respect that decision and if your Bible informed conscience convicts you that is the right decision, I encourage you to stand by your convictions. Personally, I am now conflicted because I know I have already participated in products made from HEK-293 and I can’t see how I can extract myself from the pharmaceutical quagmire. Fr. Matthew Schneider helpfully points out; “if we are going to reject any drug tested with HEK-293, or any other fetal cell line, then we should reject almost every aspect of modern medicine, including a long list of over-the-counter drugs.” I own a property in Mudgee and for a moment considered becoming Amish. In lockdown, the thought had a certain attraction, but I cannot accept that is the answer when people need the gospel more than ever. This conclusion forced me to go back to the cross, rather than trying to establish the ethical rightness or wrongness of taking a coronavirus vaccine. But nonetheless, I decided to go further down the pharmaceutical rabbit-hole
The Abortion & Pharmaceutical Industry
The abortion industry is now an integral part of the pharmaceutical industry and it is permitted to undertake a type of termination by Australian law. Pharmaceutical companies and universities are allowed to conduct laboratory abortions for scientific research. I use the words “laboratory abortion” because I can find no technical description for the termination of embryonic life at or before 14 days in pharmaceutical facilities. Australian law currently allows the scientific community to obtain supernumary IVF embryos (excess to fertility use) and grow them in the laboratory up to the age of 14 days. Within those 14 days they can do almost unlimited research on the growing embryo. They can destroy it within the first 5-6 days in order to make human embryonic stem cells (hESC), similar to HEK293. Or they can grow the embryo, harvest bits from the embryo or even turn the developing embryo into a chimera (part animal, part human), until the 14-day mark at which they must destroy the “product”. In biblical terms this is grossly evil and must be described as nothing less than medical and pharmaceutical cannibalization of children.
The development of hESC lines and the pharming of tissue from supernumary IVF has a barbarity, evil and wickedness to it that is in league with the abortion of full-term babies. Pharming is a portmanteau of “farming” and “pharmaceutical” that refers to the generation of pharmaceuticals using animals or plants (or embryos) that have been genetically engineered. Pharming is a useful alternative to traditional pharmaceutical development because genetically engineered livestock, plants, hESC lines are relatively inexpensive to produce and maintain. In 2008, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Catholic Church released Dignitas Personae. This Catholic directive addressed issues related to IVF, the freezing of embryos and embryonic ethical controversies that had emerged since 1987. The Catholic church stated that in their estimation the developing of hESC lines from embryos and cloned embryos derived from somatic cell nuclear transfer was illicit.
Dr Megan Best, Associate Professor for Bioethics, University of Notre Dame recently wrote an article in Sydney Anglicans where she gave her reasons as to why she believed Christians could ethically use vaccines derived from HEK293. In that article she separated the clinical abortion, from the subsequent use by pharmaceutical companies in order to separate the end user from what she called “material cooperation with the evil act of abortion.” She stated, “If the abortion were conducted in order to harvest tissues that were to be used for the vaccine, then it would clearly be immoral. This statement needs greater clarity. Dr Best states that the current vaccines are not immoral because “the abortion was carried out for other reasons, and the tissue was acquired after the child’s death for the purpose of medical research.” My personal understanding of this statement is; if the abortion was specifically carried out by a pharmaceutical company for the purpose of medical research or pharming it would be clearly immoral? I would like to know if Sydney Diocese agrees with this interpretation of Dr Megan Best’s statement?
Some people may or may not agree with Dr Best’s opinion of what constitutes “material cooperation”. Catholic Bioethicist Dr Alvin Wong wrote a paper called “The Ethics of HEK293” where he analyses the degree of cooperation in evil from 1) the persons who obtain tissue and develop the cell line, 2) to those who are involved in the commercialization and distribution of the cell line, and 3) to the researchers who buy it or use it in the laboratory. He writes;
the appropriator (in the laboratory) is faced not so much with an external and visible problem, but with a more internal and intangible one, of how to justify his profiting from a grave evil already committed.
the known use of material derived from a voluntary abortion are clear and direct attacks on right conscience. They effectively undermine the protest against abortion and contribute to the ambiguous thinking that is making it very difficult to stop the wave of new research based on morally tainted materials, and will make it impossible to stop the use of products from this research and development. A grave deformation of conscience is occurring because of a failure to face the gravity of this phenomenon.
Dr Alvin Wong is only considering the ethics of using HEK293 in medical research, rather than the end user of a vaccine. Yet, he still argues that the degree of separation between the abortion clinic who conducts the abortion and the phamaceutical company who develops the cell line is not as great as Dr Best suggests. The Pharmaceutical company’s generation of demand for cell lines developed from fetal tissue from procured abortions constitutes at least an “immediate passive material cooperation” in the evil act of abortion. This means it is illicit. But to emphasise his real concern Dr Wong prefers to speak of the “appropriation of evil”, rather than “material cooperation” in evil. Quoting M. Cathleen Kaveny he writes;
The main effect of a decision to appropriate the evil action of another is internal; by choosing to tie their action to the evil act of another, appropriators shape their characters in a way that may not have immediate, tangible consequences in the external world. In short, the immediate impact of the decision to appropriate the illicit act of another is a deeply interior one; it alters the character of the appropriator.
I agree with Dr Best’s definition of what “would be clearly immoral” and it is on that basis that this paper is written, because I believe the pharmaceutical industry is already engaged in activities that are clearly immoral by Dr Best’s definition. But I also think that Dr Alvin Wong makes a strong ethical case in terms of the appropriation of evil which is perhaps why many Christians still want to distance themselves from vaccines made from aborted stem cells. Although, the Diocese has been saying vaccines are a conscience issue the argument in Sydney Anglicans and elsewhere has predominantly been in favor of vaccines. I understand that the situation is complex and significant decisions are being made under pressure. But I would like to challenge the Diocese’ general positive approval of these vaccines under the biblical concepts of “whitewashing”, “unjust gain” and “hiding our eyes”.
Although AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may not fill Dr Best’s condition of “clear immorality”, the very same pharmaceutical companies are now materially cooperating in activity that is clearly immoral. The Pharmaceutical companies are conducting laboratory abortions in order to harvest tissues that will be used in hESC lines, vaccines and all sorts of pharmaceutical products. This is clearly wrong. Dr Alvin Wong observes, “If we have justified and given in to the use of 293, how can we hope to stem the tide of embryonic stem cell use?”
At a commercial scale the pharmaceutical companies now conduct thousands of embryonic abortions specifically for medical gain. This means the next generation of pharmaceuticals and vaccines that are being developed with hESC will be “clearly immoral”. Pharmaceutical companies are now obtaining and terminating 5-6 day old embryo’s to produce hESC that they hope will regenerate our heart muscles, cure parkinsons disease and take away cerebral palsy. But will Christian leaders speak at that point? Will they still uphold Dr Best’s definition of material cooperation and clear immorality? Or is now, in the midst of a pandemic, the time for Christians to clearly express to governments and pharmaceutical companies that we will not accept medicine derived from human life.
Australia currently only uses supernumary IVF embryos (excess from IVF) for their research. Due to the frequent short supply of supernumary IVF embryos other countries are creating human clones. Through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) a woman’s ovum is enucleated with a human cell, instead of sperm. SCNT produces a cloned human embryo and the SCNT derived blastocyst undertakes normal growth tendencies observed in human IVF embryos. Whether a SCNT derived blastocyst could form into a fully formed human is still questionable. But medically it is still considered a human embryo created through SCNT. Many countries now create SCNT human embryos, purely for the purpose of termination in order to develop hESC lines.
The World Health Organization estimates 40-50 million babies will be aborted in 2021 by normal medical means. But this figure does not include the thousands of embryos now grown in pharmaceutical companies around the world before being turned into a human embryonic stem cell line (hESC) or being terminated at the international maximum of 14 days. The immorality of this scientific research means that some countries have made such research illegal and others have limited it to 7 days. It is prohibited in Italy, Russia, Turkey and Austria. Yet, the National Stem Cell Research of Australia is now seeking to have the limit increased beyond 14 days to 28 days so that they can take their human-animal chimera research further. One wonders whether the trajectory of pharmaceutical abortions will follow the same path as medical abortions. At first, abortions were only allowed in the first trimester, then the second trimester and as we now know partial birth abortions are permissible.
Human Embryonic Stem Cell (hESC) research is the forefront of medical science. The benefits appear so significant (almost miraculous) that it is pushing both countries and pharmaceutical companies to blur ethical lines. The hPSCreg was established in 2007 as the European Human Embryonic Stem Cell registry (hESCreg) and it is supported by the European Commission. As of the 1st August 2021 there were 804 hESC lines registered internationally and 31 registered in Australia. Pharamceutical companies can purchase rights to use these registered hESC lines from each other.
If you go to the website https://hpscreg.eu/browse/countries and click on a particular hESC line (in the attached link) you can can see when it was created, whether the embryo was healthy or in some way compromised and whether the “donor” was a little boy or little girl. Sadly, the word “donor” is misleading. The donor did not sign any consent forms and they were “terminated” in the process of establishing that particular hESC line. But that particular hESC line may soon cure Parkinson’s disease, enable the quadraplegic to walk or become the final answer to coronavirus. Miraculous opportunities like this will soon be available to Christians if they simply ignore the fact that their gain is coming from a gross injustice to a little baby, who has a right to life. Christians must understand that the destruction of human embryos excess to IVF is part of normal pharmaceutical practice and “abortion” is no longer reserved to the medical field. The use of the word “abortion” may not be correct because no mother is present and it is not a medical procedure. But the life inherent in human embryo’s is pharmed and then terminated.
There is an emerging alternative to human embryonic stem cells (hESC) called human induced pluripotent stem cells (HiPSC). HiPSC are derived from blood in umbilical cords. These pluripotent stem cells are reprogrammed back into an embryonic stem cell like state. This is desirable because it means that like hESC, the HiPSC can form into any of the cell types in the human body. HiPSC’s solve the controversy attached to the destruction of embryos whether supernumary IVF embryos or cloned embryos by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).
If future vaccines were made from HiPSC lines it appears they would be an ethical option for Christians. But HiPSC lines are still not a complete replacement for hESC lines. While HiPSC cells share many of the same characteristics as embryonic stem cells, including the ability to create all cell types in the body, they are not quite equal. Dr Ann Wu whose doctoral research major was in stem cell theory states; “there is still a long way to go before we use these cells (HiPSC) for diagnostic purposes because they are very hard to isolate, and their phenotype, expressions and yielding in a petri dish varies, making it commercially costly & labor intensive.”
Pharmaceutical companies are for these reasons likely to continue producing hESC lines by cannibalizing IVF and cloned embryos. Without significant pressure from countries or communities of faith they are unlikely to change their practice. If the Christian community refused however to participate in ethically compromised products in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic this may cause the pharmaceutical companies, facing pressure from governments to put more research and development into HiPSC. Perhaps churches who take stands on such ethical issues would cause Prime Ministers to take the concerns expressed last year, more seriously.
The point to acknowledge is that abortions that used to only take place in medical clinics, now also take place in pharmaceutical companies. They either “adopt” or “create” human embryos for the express purpose of pharming human tissue and hESC lines. In traditional Christian and biblical thinking the killing of <14-day old IVF embryos for science is still a type of abortion. Pharmaceutical companies are now directly involved in what Dr Megan Best calls “clearly immoral.” Any justification of this medical research for the greater good cannot be accepted. The Bible is clear those who “do evil, so that good may come” are anathema to God (Rom.3:8). Christians who benefit from this intentional pharmaceutical pharming will be one degree closer to “material cooperation with the evil act of abortion”. The question is where do Christians draw a line that is true to biblical ethics, if its not with products made from aborted stem cells. What will be the Diocesan position?
The Sanctity of Life – God’s Word
The Bible is clear that the intentional, taking of human life is wrong in God’s Kingdom (Ex.21:12-14). This is true of a fully formed adult and life in utero. If a man hits a pregnant woman and causes her to lose her child then the penalty is life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth (Ex.21:22-23). In the Noahic covenant God said; “for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” (Gen.9:5) The sanctity that God places upon human life is not something that Christians should ignore.
Yet, the ongoing changes in abortion law, the development of questionable IVF methods, the proposal of new euthanasia bills and now the destruction of IVF embryos to produce hESC lines means that Christians are being desensitized to issues about the sanctity of life. The sanctity of life will also be further eroded by Christian leaders encouraging believers to knowingly participate in a vaccine made from aborted stem cells. The average Christian will not discern the complexities between HEK293 and hESC. The ethics of IVF is a perfect example. Although, there are ethical ways to conduct IVF for Christians, monetary concerns and the pharmaceutical need for supernumary IVF embryos mean that couples are generally discouraged by IVF clinics from these methods. How many Christians then give due thought to the fact they are creating 12 embryos through invitro fertilization that may subsequently be destroyed, when all they are thinking about is having a baby?
Would Jesus or a Christian from an earlier era approach vaccines made with aborted embryos and foetuses with the same degree of ethical unconcern or would they be mortified? This is a hard question to answer. But it is reasonable to conclude that at the very least this practice would bring Jesus great sorrow, irrespective of the degree of “material cooperation with the evil act of abortion.”
When Israel was under the judgment of God and called by Jeremiah to repent, the people instead offered their sons and daughters in sacrifice. They killed their own babies and children in an attempt to allay God’s pending judgment. Then God states that it never entered His mind that human beings might do such a detestable thing (Jer.7:31, cf 19:5-6; 32:35). The thought that God’s people would offer up a childs life unto death, in order to save their own skins was not only unspeakable, it was unthinkable for God. Consequently, God warns Israel that further judgment is coming for the wanton bloodshed of innocent life (Jer.7:32-34; cf.19:6ff). It is unlikely that every Israelite “materially cooperated” in sacrificing their children at Tophet, but the barbarity was sufficient to bring all of Judah under God’s judgment.
The only thing worse than child sacrifice is child cannabilization. God warns Israel that when their sin reaches its culmination, they will cannibalize their own children in order to survive (Lev.26:29). God warns that sin will have so seared their consciences that the most gentle and sensitive of men, the most gentle and sensitive of women will be ready to cannibalize their own children in order to save themself (Deut.28:53-57). In the context of God’s judgment on Israel for shedding blood and benefitting from the unjust gain Ezekiel uses the language of “devouring people” (Ezek.22:25). This heartless devouring of people whether literal or metaphorical is the final straw that brings God’s wrath (Ezek.22:31). This is the antithesis of the gospel of Jesus. In God’s kingdom the stronger is always meant to serve the weaker, and when necessary, lay down their life for the weaker. The weaker should never be exploited or cannibalized for the advancement or security of the strong. Sadly, God’s warning about cannibalization became a reality, first in the fall of Samaria (2Kngs 6:28-29) and again in the fall of Jerusalem (Ezek.5:9-10; Lam.2:20; 4:10). God says, this cannibalization is an evil and abomination that has reached an order of magnitude that is unprecedented (Ezek.5:9-10).
The use of supernumary IVF human embryos and the production of human embryonic clones through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) for the sole purpose of creating hESC lines, or pharming foetal tissue is material cooperation with the evil act of abortion. It is in biblical terms the medical equivalent of cannibalization of babies. The situation is now dire. Medical facilites are still aborting babies, as late as full term and donating their bodies to science. But pharmaceutical companies are also adopting embryos and creating life for the sole purpose of pharming human and humanoid genetic material.
The Sanctity of Life and Unjust Gain
The current justification for Christians participating in the ethically compromised vaccines of AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna is that there is no material cooperation with the evil act of abortion. This is a convenient solution in the midst of a pandemic. Yet, as Dr Wong observes, the absence of material cooperation does not spare the appropriator from having to justify his profiting from the grave evil that was committed.
God chastises his people for benefitting from both unjust and ill-gotten gain. In laws of equity, unjust gain occurs when one person is enriched at the expense of another in circumstances that the law sees as unjust. In Scripture unjust gain carries the idea to cut off or rip off. In most circumstances it speaks about personal advantage derived from illicit, unjust or criminal activity. A good example of unjust gain is Judas Iscariot betraying Jesus for 30 silver coins, although he knew Jesus was innocent. Judas did not materially cooperate with the evil act of crucifixion, but he is still known as the son of perdition (Jn.17:12). His sin was betraying the Messiah for unjust or ill-gotten gain.
In the book of Ezekiel, the Lord says;
Ezek.22:13 I will surely strike my hands together at the unjust gain you have made and at the blood you have shed in your midst… 26 Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things. They do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the clean and the unclean… 27 Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain. 28 Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations.
The unjust gain arises from the shedding of blood. It is not just the blood shed in their midst that is wrong. It is the unjust gain from the shedding of blood that is God’s focus. People are benefitting from the shed blood. The fact that God’s priests declare there is no difference between the clean and the unclean brings God’s condemnation. The prophets also face rebuke for whitewashing the evil of unjust gain (Eze.22:31).
Aborted foetuses ultimately used for commercial interest and the production of vaccines is close to what the Bible would consider “unjust gain” or “ill-gotten gain”. An injustice was committed to a baby. The baby was given to a pharmaceutical company, without any justice being realised. We are now profitting through vaccines from that particular injustice. There is no comment on material cooperation in the particular evil. Rather the focus is on the spilt blood, the lack of justice and those gaining from the injustice.
In such a context as coronavirus with pharmaceutical companies gaining from the unjust shedding of blood, Christian leaders must at least pause to consider whether they are whitewashing illicit activity. Are we downplaying the real attrocity of what happened and what is continuing to happen? Rather, than justifying such unjust gain, perhaps we should all be on our kness with King David praying; “Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies.” (Ps.141:4).
Although guilt by association with HEK293 may be difficult to establish and most of us are already complicit in products made and tested with HEK293, other principles remain. The two ingredients of the shedding of blood and unjust gain are clearly present in the conduct of modern pharmaceutical companies. It is obvious for all to see. Yet I currently hear church leaders lacking clarity in the condemnation of these medicines derived from abortion. It is sort of unclean medicine (Archbishop Glenn Davies), but no real difference to clean medicine (Archbishop Kanishka Raffel). This creates a dangerous precedent on where modern medicine is headed with hESC lines. What constitutes a clean or unclean vaccine?
The book of Leviticus also speaks to the community of Israel, about those who “hide their eyes” from those who sacrifice their children to Molech. (Lev.18:21, Lev.20:2-6).
Lev.20: 3 And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name. 4 And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not: 5 Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people. (KJV)
There is an abhorrence to child sacrifice that must be taken seriously. There is also wrongdoing in “hiding our eyes” from obvious acts of child sacrifice. Not only is the man who committed the child sacrifice condemned, so too are the people who fail to demonstrably condemn the child sacrifice. The question is whether taking a vaccine that is tested on aborted stem cells is demonstrably condemning the abortion industry? Or is it “hiding our eyes” from the illicit origins of foetal stem cells and hiding our eyes from the murderous conduct these same pharmaceutical companies are still doing? What God specifically forbids is not the worship of Molech (which would be a gross sin), but those who shed blood, by sacrificing children to Molech (Lev.18:21). Yet, God not only condemns those who materially cooperate in the evil act of child sacrifice, but also those who hide their eyes and fail to demonstrably condemn the practice.
Dr Megan Best’s article in Sydney Anglicans asked “Should Christians accept the Covid-19 vaccine?” Although, she concluded by saying this was an issue of individual conscience, she made her case as to why it was permissible for Christians to have these vaccines. Her encouragement to Christians was that in the absence of an ethical vaccine they should accept vaccination on the basis of loving our neighbour, and contributing to the public good. Yet, if Christians believe life begins at conception our neighbour includes the unborn, the IVF embryos and cloned embryos being pharmed for unjust gain. In Christian thinking God has a special concern for those who are most vulnerable to exploitation the alien, the widow and the fatherless (Deut.24:17-21; Dt.27:19). God clearly says, “Cursed is the person who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.” (Deut.27:19). Yet, that is what Christians are very close to doing, withholding justice from the fatherless as we benefit from the unjust gain of their abortions. How do we demonstrably condemn the practice of abortion while benefitting from its practice?
Second, encouraging Christians to take an unethical vaccine in order to contribute to the public good, may in fact be detrimental to Christian health in the near future. If Christians are willing (even somewhat reluctantly) to accept unethical vaccines then pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to produce ethical medicine. What may be for the public good now, could be very detrimental for Christians having access to ethical medicines and vaccines in the near future. As Catholic bioethicist Dr Alvin Wong states, “If we have justified and given in to the use of 293, how can we hope to stem the tide of embryonic stem cell use?”
The pharmaceutical companies already have clinical trials with hESC underway for those who develop pulmonary fibrosis from coronavirus. Thus far, from a medical perspective the results are promising. Clinical trials have also been conducted for vaccines made from hESC lines for the treatment of ovarian cancer. This is not a coronavirus vaccine, but it shows development in the area of vaccines is already underway. Consequently, the church must consider what we’ll do if the pharmaceutical companies were to develop a final and complete solution for coronavirus made from hESC lines that are clearly immoral. Will church leaders take a stand at that point or will the waters already be too muddied? Christians need to realize that the very thing Dr Best says is clearly immoral is already being used in various clinical trials.
As Christians accept vaccines made from aborted foetal stem cells we are now directly putting our tax dollars into unethical developments. Two doses of Pfizer return about $40 U.S. to the pharmaceutical company. Two doses of Astrazeneca places about $10 U.S. in the company. There will of course, be booster shots. The most recent studies show that even Pfizer drops to about 80% efficacy within 6 months. But some of these booster shots may include elements made not from HEK293, but from hESC lines where embryos have been intentionally terminated for the sake of unjust gain. Should Christians be yoked to such companies for never ending booster shots where the ethics are becoming increasingly dark? Further, should Christians in the west continue to accept the booster shots which are effectively preventing the the third world from getting even their first dose of a vaccine.
Regrettably, many people reading this paper will have already had coronavirus vaccines, either being ill-informed, unaware or with little regard for the babies aborted. Others may have weighed all the evidence and still concluded that vaccination was the lesser evil. But in the midst of the pandemic many Christians will have been primarily concerned with self-preservation, rather than good stewardship or ethical conduct. Further, discovering in the midst of a pandemic that many medicines we have already taken are derived from HEK293 may lead to complacency or indifference. A further erosion to the sanctity of life.
Pastorally, the subject matter itself is deeply unsettling. Many Christians will have taken human life in abortions. Many Christians will have participated in unethical IVF practices, with embryos now placed in indefinite frozen storage or donated to science. The answer is not to justify this behaviour, but where appropriate to repent and cast ourselves on Christ’s mercy. The Christian church is rapidly approaching a line in medical science that we should not cross in good conscience. Irrespective of what decisions Christians may have made about vaccines in the midst of state pressure and the fear of death, we cannot ignorantly embrace the next round of medicines made from hESC and not be complict in evil.
The penalty for killing another human being is eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. This is true of adult human life and embryonic human life in the petri dish. As Christians we are thankful that Jesus has taken the penalty for us when he died upon the cross. For those who believe in Jesus as Saviour and Lord their sin is paid for in full. There is no sin that God cannot forgive. If you feel ashamed or guilty because of some aspect of this paper, turn to Jesus and ask him to forgive you. But recognize taking life is serious and such sin cannot be overlooked, condoned or whitewashed. Where Christian behaviour is directly leading to murder or failing to address murder or unjustly gaining from murder we have a responsibility to repent.
The Protestant church needs to give more thought to the ethics of IVF and the production of hESC lines from supernumary and cloned embryos. The Catholic paper “Instruction: Dignitas Personae on certain Bioethical Questions” has given a framework for Catholics to understand the issues related to sanctity of life, so they can make ethically informed decisions. If the Anglican church fails to produce something similar there will be complicity in the evil of abortion and the termination of supernumary embryos by knowingly leaving Christians in their ignorance.
The recent trend of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney has been to ease people’s conscience on what is a profoundly unethical issue, while stating it is an issue for individual conscience. This paper has duly demonstrated that there are real ethical and wisdom issues for Christians to consider when participating in these vaccines. If vaccination is truly a Christian conscience issue, then Archbishops should not be stating “there is no good reason for Christians not to get vaccinated.” Nor should Sydney Anglicans be publishing papers presenting the case for vaccination without presenting the case against vaccination. If it is truly a conscience issue with a real biblical basis for some to be conscientious objectors then we must uphold and respect those who are conscientious objectors. This would include a Christians right not to be discrimanated against by the introduction of vaccine passports.
The question the Anglican church and all ethical churches must consider right now is where will Christian consciences stop enjoying the unjust gain derived from the cannabilization of embryos whether aborted, from IVF donors or cloned embryos from SCNT? Should Christians be in any sort of relationship with companies who have commercialized murder and whose ethics are grossly compromised? Whether Christians have had vaccines derived from HEK293 or not, it is time to tell pharmaceutical companies that we will not take medicines derived from hESC. We will not benefit from unjust gain or the murder of infants.
Pr 1:19 Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
it takes away the lives of those who get it.
 Should Christians accept the COVID-19 vaccine? (sydneyanglicans.net)
 Ibid, www.pdcnet.org, 480.
 Ibid www.pdcnet.org/ p.490
 Ibid, www.pdcnet.org, 479.
 https://www.stemcellfoundation.net.au/part_human_part_animal_organisms https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/769244#
 Dr Ann Wu, personal email, 12:49am 18th August 2021.