‘Morally permissible’ for Catholics to accept Covid-19 vaccine which uses aborted foetal cells

Catholic church welcomes vaccination programme for ‘common good’

It is "morally permissible" for Catholics to accept a Covid-19 vaccination which involves the use of cell lines derived from aborted foetuses, the Irish Catholic Church has said.

The Catholic Church traditionally teaches that it is unethical to use stem cells derived from aborted fetuses in medical research.

However, in a statement on Wednesday, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference said Catholics could accept vaccines using these stem-cells if a more “ethically acceptable” alternative is not available.

“Questions have arisen that human foetal cell-lines, which have their origins in abortions carried out in the past, are used in the development and production of some of the vaccines for Covid-19,” the statement said.


“If a more ethically acceptable alternative is not readily available to them, it is morally permissible for Catholics to accept a vaccine which involves the use of foetal cell-lines, especially if the potential risk to life or health is significant, as in the case of a pandemic”

The statement said that refusal to accept a vaccine could contribute to “significant loss of life in the community”, particularly among those who are most vulnerable.

“This reality must inform any judgement of conscience,” it added.

The church reaffirmed its “consistent teaching ... that abortion is always gravely immoral”.

“The church has always made a distinction, however, between formal (deliberate) involvement in an immoral act and material involvement, which may be incidental and remote,” it said.

“The decision of those who decide to accept vaccines which have had some link with foetal cell-lines in the past does not imply any consent on their part to abortion.”

The church also noted that many of the vaccines currently in devlopment “do not depend for their design or production on foetal cell lines”.

“Catholics should continue to advocate for the availability of ethically-developed vaccines. In that way they bear witness that biomedical research should always be conducted in a manner which is consistent with respect for life and for human dignity,” it added.

The church encouraged Catholics to support a programme of vaccination, not only for their own good, but for the common good of humanity.

Cells derived from elective abortions have been used since the 1960s to manufacture vaccines, including current vaccines against rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A, and shingles.

Posts circulated on social media last month that the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine contains aborted foetus cells, prompting concerns that members of the public would object to the vaccine on moral grounds.

AstraZeneca has said its vaccine uses a cell strain taken from a female foetus aborted in the 1970s. However, the company said the cells are used to propagate the virus for the vaccine but these cells do not make it into the final jab.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times