Editor's Note: This article is part of Religion: Got questions?, a series answering your biggest religious questions. Each week, we will answer one submitted faith question. To send a submission visit https://bit.ly/30cTYzx or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: What is the church's opinion on the use of aborted fetal tissue in the manufacturing of vaccines?
Most religions and Christian denominations approve of vaccinations to improve public health. Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Muslims and Jews have no theological objections to using vaccines. But several faith-healing denominations — including Dutch Reformed and Church of Christ, Scientist — do, according to Vanderbilt University.
There are several vaccines, though, that are derived from human cells, specifically fetuses that were legally aborted in the 1960s, according to the Immunization Action Coalition. The vaccines for hepatitis A, rubella and varicella are derived from these cells. The human tissue used to create these vaccines has an indefinite life span, so no further fetal tissue has been added to create vaccines since the first abortion.
The connection between some vaccines and abortion has been a matter of theological debate for decades. Religious conservatives who oppose abortion would find any use of fetal tissue immoral, even if the abortion was done legally, said Kevin Snider, Lee University visiting lecturer in Christian ethics. Despite the abortion having already occurred, using the vaccines could be seen as a vote of support for the practice and using someone for personal gain, he said.
"This side of the spectrum seem to think that all humans are made in the image of God," Snider said. " And that means that no humans can ever be used as mere objects or as a means to an end."
However, someone could make an argument that since the person is not living anymore the person is no longer in the full image of God and could be used for the betterment of society, Snider said. In a way, this would be making the best of a bad situation, such as an abortion, he said.
The Catholic church, which holds a firm stance against abortion, has approved of the use of vaccines derived from fetal tissue if no alternative is available. In 2005, the Vatican issued a statement that Catholic parents can use the vaccines derived from fetuses since their use is necessary for the good of public health, there are not viable alternatives available and the parents are removed from the actual act of abortion. However, Catholics are encouraged to advocate for the production of alternatives not derived from an abortion.
"Such cooperation [with vaccines] occurs in a context of moral coercion of the conscience of parents, who are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk," the 2005 statement read. "This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible."
For people thinking about the ethics of the issue, organ donation is a good comparison, Snider said. Someone's organs could be used to help others and improve society, even if the person was killed through an immoral means, he said.