This post is long overdue, since the COVID-19 vaccines have been out for a while now, but this is a topic that will always be important because it involves the dignity of human life and the Church’s prohibition on using evil means to produce a good result.
Before we get into this topic, I should start by saying that the Church’s stance on treatments such as this is that if you are considered to be at a high risk (so in the case of COVID-19, if you are 65 or older or have an underlying condition that makes you prone to it), and there is absolutely no other option that is more morally acceptable, it is ok to receive it. For all others, it is up to them to discern whether they really need the treatment (for example, if they are a doctor, nurse, or in some other profession, like teaching, that requires close contact with those who could be at risk).
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are more morally acceptable than the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, because the two former options only use aborted cells in the testing and research for the vaccine and they are not in the vaccine itself. The J&J vaccine, however, used the aborted cells in the production, meaning that they are in the vaccine itself. So if you are going to get the vaccine, Pfizer and Moderna are the two that you will want to go to first. Like I said though, if there is absolutely no other option in your area, it would be acceptable to receive the J&J vaccine if you absolutely needed it. However, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are so widely available that there really is no reason to absolutely need the J&J vaccine. Although if you are allergic to anything in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (for example, the Pfizer vaccine contains latex), then obviously that would also make it acceptable to receive J&J.
Now that that’s all laid out, it’s necessary to reiterate that despite it being permissible for the Catholic to tolerate and perhaps even receive the benefits of these particular vaccines due to the lack of any other options, it is nevertheless important to realize that the means used to create them are unacceptable and evil in themselves. And if we must receive the vaccines because of a reason listed above, we need to do our part to speak out about these means and why they are not to be tolerated. Using cell lines derived from aborted babies is evil because the action used to make those cell lines is evil. It is the taking of an innocent life and therefore is something never to be tolerated.
Yes, someone might say, but in the end they are used to make vaccines that could potentially save lives. So why is that wrong? Simply put, using something that was derived from an evil action implies the accepting of that evil act. It would be like saying “I would never condone violence” but then turning around and using violence because it suits one’s needs at the time. Furthermore, using something derived from an evil action, even if it’s for the benefit of others, ends up corrupting the action itself because the means used come from something that is immoral. And something like murder (and let’s face it, abortion is murder) is always gravely immoral apart from circumstances (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1755-1756).
Also, look at that objection again. It could be used to potentially save lives. Okay, but what about the lives of the unborn babies? Didn’t they have a right to have their lives saved? And now they’re being used to save other lives that society deems more acceptable because they’re outside of the womb? Seems a bit hypocritical, doesn’t it? The right to life is the most fundamental right we have. We should be just as concerned about the lives of children in the womb then we are about lives outside of the womb.
There are also many ways to get cell lines that are morally acceptable and come from adult stem cells. These can be used in place of embryonic cells and therefore do not cause a moral dilemma for Catholics. If you must or have already received any of the three vaccines, it is necessary to still do your part in educating others and speaking out about the evils of aborted cell lines. Write a letter to the manufacturers and companies that carry the shots. Pray. But most of all, we must educate others about the evils of abortion itself and why things derived from it cannot be used in medicine and should be unthinkable. If we speak out enough, people should start to listen.