Can Christians in Good Conscience Get the COVID Vaccine?

In this episode of BaerTalk I explore questions about the morality of COVID vaccines. Some Christians have expressed worry that the vaccines have been developed in a way that makes them complicit in the evil of abortion. The Bishop Athanasius Schneider, for example, asserts that those who receive a COVID vaccine are guilty of “material cooperation” in evil.

But this is a minority view. Many Christians, including conservative Christians who oppose abortion, believe the vaccines are morally acceptable. Gilbert Meilaender, author of Bioethics: A Primer for Christians and a well-respected conservative voice, recently argued in an article published in First Things that medical research which makes use of fetal tissue is appropriate under certain circumstances. Professor Meilaender talked about these issues on my podcast, together with another colleague, Joseph Capizzi, who teaches at The Catholic University of America. We had a lively discussion and a good debate about what it means to be “complicit with evil.” I hope you enjoy listening to our conversation, and think about subscribing on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Can Christians in Good Conscience Get the COVID vaccine? BaerTalk

Some people worry that COVID vaccines are complicit in the evil of abortion and have decided not to get vaccinated. Are these moral concerns well-founded? Gilbert Meilaender and Joseph Capizzi join David on BaerTalk to discuss the morality of vaccines and fetal research, and debate what it means to be “complicit with evil.”



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6 replies

  1. One last point. I don’t know, but suspect, that underlying assumptions could be driving some of the debate in the podcast. I could be entirely wrong. But my suspicion is that one of the like-minded aspects of the participants of the group, would be that aspects of their view:

    1) contain a more optimistic assessment of the deliverances of modern medicine than many do, which is to say, in light of the many admittedly powerful and positive aspects of it, a less accepting view (as an element of active argumentation at least) than many of its limitations; 2) firmly hold a particular favored strategy or strategies for opposing abortion than the general public.

    Sometimes what one doesn’t say is more revealing that what one does. If it happens my guess is correct, which is pure speculation (except perhaps #2 since at least one strategy was hinted at), you could wonder if these things are doing some real active work in the consensus outcome. If so, one could be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t as much a matter of inductive or deductive logic and substance in reaching a conclusion as working backwards from desired unstated outcomes to find premises to support conclusion(s).

    I’m extremely thankful for the deliverances of modern medicine. We see people stitched back together after accidents that would have previously died, life is extended is extraordinary ways, and it thankfully involves less pain to boot. But this doesn’t change the fact that antibiotics are perhaps responsible for a good 80% of the life extension there’s been, that IMO the medical discipline is vastly more successful at that which involves mechanical aspects than curing disease. Moreover, many medical procedures are unnecessary (to be sure there’s plenty of blame to go around on that; it’s certainly not all practitioners fault). But the point is that Iatrogenesis is very real, and it’s highly unwise to not be very skeptical that a given treatment is going to help, especially when there’s no observable symptoms or the supposed relevance of numbers to rely on. I have an Uncle and two cousins who’s health was severely compromised permanently–two very, very nearly died–by following medical advice based on current practices that involved predictions, statistics, and family history rather than actual conditions. In other words, nothing was wrong with them when they took the vaccine (Giulllian-Barr from a flu shot in the case of my uncle) or medication. One cousin’s liver was quite nearly ruined by long-term use of anti-statins, and another cousin’s had permanent tendon damage that even the amazing stitching doctors now do in surgery could repair. And that’s no even including my father, whose doctor actively discouraged him from seeking a 2nd opinion, to the great regret of us all and harm to my father. This sort of thing is extremely common. Extremely common. Doctors can save you life, and they can kill you.

    You can only get burned so many times and listen to pleas for trust in medical experts at the highest levels of the medical bureaucracy, which are the most politicized. This isn’t irrational; it’s supremely rational. It’s irrational to dismiss such concerns. This whole Covid situation is somewhat surreal to me because before any of it started my doctor of a decade or more had become so obsessed with the fact that I wasn’t getting seasonal flu shots he has resorted to shrieking “do you know how many people die from the flu?” I’d just tell him, “Yes, as it happens I do.” But such unprofessionalism I think is horrible, and because of it I’d have found another doctor if my company hadn’t changed providers and saved me the effort. I suspect that the podcast participants don’t sufficiently appreciate how skeptical of the medical profession many folks had already become before anyone over heard of Covid. This doesn’t take away from the tremendous good they do. But there are no unalloyed goods in life, alas.

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  2. But of course you’re asking the wrong question to begin with. I think it can be morally permissible. No, the salient question –and you need only scan the news today– is whether or not there is a legitimate reason to reject it on moral or religious grounds. So asking the wrong question is another criticism of the discussion. 🙂

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    • Hello Mark! First of all, thanks for listening and sharing your thoughts. I don’t know that I can do justice to all your comments, though I will try to say a few things. I’m pretty sure everyone who participated in the discussion would agree that a person can have sincere, morally based, reasons for refusing the vaccine. Of course, people can also have moral reasons for getting vaccinated – to help prevent the infection from spreading and protect the vulnerable, to help create a situation where schools can function regularly, businesses can operate fully, and so on. In the podcast we focused a lot on the question of how closely these vaccines are intertwined with the evil of abortion. I think the view of the participants was the connection is fairly remote. The vaccines weren’t developed using aborted baby parts, although some of the vaccines (particularly, J&J) were developed relying on a cell line derived from a cell grafted from an aborted fetus in the 1970’s. So there is a causal chain that traces back to an aborted fetus (although we don’t know the details of that abortion), which is something people need to consider. As someone also pointed out on the show, there’s a causal chain connecting the railroad lines to 19th century slave labor, which is also something to consider. Of course these considerations may not lead to the same conclusions for everyone, and people will disagree. Those sorts of disagreements are natural.

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      • Sorry, I got preoccupied for a bit. Continuing …

        I was just having a little fun with your choice of title. Yes, I’m aware people have differing opinions. I think I understood the consensus argument of the recording well enough, and your restatement confirms that. Basically, though you’re all considerate of the feelings of others with whom you disagree, you’re skeptical of the reasoned basis for “sincere, morally based, reasons for refusing the vaccine” because its abortion “connection is fairly remote”. But I’ve tried to question the realism –the narrow view of relevant context– upon which this conclusion seems to be based. Since that didn’t land I’ll try to be more clear. It seems to me the consensus argument can be stated very simply.

        Premise: The abortion that began the cell lines –HEK-293 or WI-38 or what have you– is in the past
        Conclusion: The cell line use is morally non-problematic

        If this argument was correct I’d agree with you. It’s not about a more “sensitive conscience”, nor about “clean hands”, which is rather condescending and insulting quite frankly. It’s about context and interpretation, and it’s what ethicists are supposed to do. The conclusion flows from the premise well enough. But the premise is false. If I agreed with the premise I’d agree with the conclusion. But of course I don’t. The argument contains “a solution that is simple, elegant, and wrong”, as Mencken might have it.

        An illustration of how unrealistic is the picture you’ve presented can be seen by reflecting on the analogy chosen. The “causal chain connecting the railroad lines to 19th century slave labor” serves as a just so story. Because slavery in the developed world and the railroads they built are both unequivocally in the past. Though abortion has been and will be around as long as is murder, what we have today is something qualitatively different. As different as the crime of murder to Auschwitz. In its industrial incarnation, that is now paid for with my tax dollars. No, what we have now is a vicious cartel that aborts babies in large part in the shadows. So much so that if the same ordinary medical regulatory oversight were applied to abortion “clinics” that were applied to veterinary clinics, most would be shut down. It also preys upon minority communities. Black women make up 14 percent of the childbearing population, but obtain 36% percent of reported abortions. Black women now have roughly as many abortions –if not more– than live births.

        So railroad lines and slave labor is a bad analogy to aborted cell lines to products derived from them. Let’s fix that, yes?

        Think back to a later form of slave labor, after it had been formally abolished. Where there were sheriffs across regions of the country with an underclass of former slaves and their children that was overrepresented in the county’s prison labor gang. Often the sheriffs and local businessmen had shared interests of varying types with labor-intensive labor contractors in the area. Lucky for them, the local judges also have these same shared business interests with the sheriffs and local businessmen. Remarkably, they seem to all have similar views on what infractions matter, and all dislike families suing them, so they tend to select from the underclass for the labor gangs. Now if there were a discovery done by an honest judge into the matter, it would show that these incestuous relationships –conflicts of interest– is why the underclass is overrepresented in the labor gangs. But no discovery will be done, because they victimize those without power because they’ve no ability to find or pay for good legal representation since entire towns are complicit in such schemes. Thankfully, in the developed world all that is in the past. But these types of incestuous relationships that make conflict of interest are, of course, not. The point is this type of incestuous coordinated dynamic –let’s just call them conspiracies– is very much present in the current abortion regime.

        (Another apt analogy would be a trio of guardian ad litem, psychologists and therapists, and family court judges working in a coordinated fashion to strip parents and children of their rights and drain their bank accounts. This actually happens, of course. It’s a fallen world.)

        Do you realize or acknowledge (it’s not in dispute) that the same department -the FDA– whose recommendation is cited as the reason I should feel safe about taking mRNA Covid-19 “vaccine” has acknowledged (or it was discovered through FOIA requests) that for a quarter century (until 2018 when stopped by a pro-life president) it was buying aborted baby parts for immune system and vaccine testing? Moreover, the subsequent pro-abortion president in April this year moved to re-establish the buying of aborted baby parts and will very likely succeed? So we have an underclass being preyed upon by abortion mills that we have clear evidence are tailoring abortions procedures themselves to preserve the most valuable parts to sell to research labs in universities and such, and thus get the most profit.

        Given all this, it seems to me a bit naive to assume the intent of the actors involved in the abortion cartel or industry are doing it just to improve women’s autonomy or the state of the world, however misguided I know you think that is, if that’s the reasoning.

        So analogies to the Nazi doctors or slave labor, both completely and entirely in the past, and both completely and entirely *repudiated* in the past, fail utterly. No analogies like these can do justice to the ongoing and unashamed practice and promotion of abortion, and attempts to make such simple analogies are entirely unrealistic. To be sure, I do not know that any of the FDA purchased baby parts were used in any Covid vaccines. In fact I’ve no idea. There is no voluntary transparency in the FDA or our research universities for obvious reasons. So much is done in secret. The people that could answer these questions won’t talk publicly, and it takes whistleblowers and clandestine activity –at great personal risk– to discover what they’re doing. Ask yourself why that is. And ask yourself how certain you are that a single abortion decades ago is all that matters. I think there is reason to doubt that the old cell lines are all that have been used for vaccines in recent years. Moreover, in light of the ghastly history of what has transpired with abortions procedures tailored to preserving body parts, it seems to me if one were to insist on a separation between the use of industry and government use of aborted baby parts and vaccine development only on old cell lines it would be to miss the point.

        To summarize, my contention is that your premise and the premise of the podcast is false. Namely, because a) abortion in a relevant sense isn’t at all in the past; b) nor are the actors involved anything but aggressively and openly promoting and attempting vigorously to perpetuate it. The premise (with an implied premise) are both false, and this invalidates the conclusion. And of course the slave labor analogy is qualitatively different from the recent abortion regime that serves as context.

        Because of this more complex version of contextual circumstances than you seem willing to acknowledge, I don’t see how we can assume at this point that the intention of abortions don’t stand in some intentional relation to the products of abortion. It seems to me they very well may. It strains credulity to assume a nominalist viewpoint –and matching analogy– that the single individual abortion in the past that started a cell line could serve as the only premise of the debate. Certainly not as seen by those who object to Covid or any vaccine or treatment whose research depends on cell lines derived from aborted children. Which is why I said or implied earlier that sympathy for a viewpoint sometimes isn’t enough to represent it well. It’s not about “sensitive consciences” and “clean hands”. It’s about facts and application.

        P. S. And if it’s retorted that this is all pointless and water under the bridge since other vaccines (and Tylenol and whatever else) was also derived from these cell lines, I’d say this. Though it isn’t controversial to you and me that the use of the cell lines –if we agreed the relevant events were in the past, as we don’t– is permissible, I don’t think facts of these cell lines uses has been widely known or discussed. No one cares about the Nazi or slave products now –except in the 3rd world if and when it’s still an issue– since they’re ancient history. It’s obvious few want to explain to the general public the issues involved in our own societies. They just want to run up experts who’ll tell them it’s all fine. Neither corporations nor government wants to have the discussion you and I or the local medical ethicist might have with each other with the general public. But that’s a problem too, isn’t it? That’s the very sort of paternalism–that the experts know best and they didn’t tell us because they knew we couldn’t handle it–so eventually they have to lie because they know we can’t handle it. There’s an ancient view that if one can’t explain something to laymen then one doesn’t truly understand it oneself. I think we’d be better off if our supposed experts reflected on that.

        Cheers

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      • Mark, thanks for sharing all your thoughts. I hope other visitors to this webpage read them. I also hope you listen to other episodes of my podcast!

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  3. A good debate, but I still don’t think it was fully fleshed out. You needed someone to more vigorously disagree, though you did an admirable job of trying to portray the other side sympathetically. But this can’t compensate if there’s a lack of realism. The Nazi data was declared okay because the crimes were in the past. The regime and everything it stood for, believed, and practiced was forcefully repudiated in the starkest terms. Those were unique circumstances of course, and not likely to be replicated again. But now according to GM and the rest, we’re to believe that the only thing that needs to be in the past are the individual human deaths of these old cell lines, and even that seems to partly hinge on the fact that both the abortion industry and research has been going on a long time and none of us have clean hands, and also that clear intent lines aren’t there.

    Yet the FDA had been buying baby parts for two decades for research and as late as 2018, and we know some abortion providers in fact were performing abortions using specific techniques–even more barbaric and possibly favoring later term–to produce better research material. Moreover, the Biden administration has filed paperwork to try to restart government buying of baby parts to continue this research. It was a good discussion, but sometimes sympathetic skeptics aren’t good enough. Looks to me like the intentional aspect of the abortion industry is closer to the research than the participants here were willing to admit. It isn’t 1980 anymore.

    And the threat of the medical industrial complex to human health isn’t new. It’s a business too. Iatrogenesis has been a thing since, well ever. But it’s been an obvious issue for many years. I have three people I can point to even in my family that were seriously harmed (and two of them quite nearly perished) by unnecessary treatments based on nothing more than statistics and family history. Now isn’t the time to assume the benefits of government/industry in this matter should be accepted on their own terms. Many simply don’t see it that way.

    Good debate but lacked realism and context.

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