An ethical decision awaits us

As Americans continue to battle COVID-19 through social distancing and stay-at-home defensive measures, the curve is flattening and fewer people are acquiring the deadly virus.  But sometime in the near future,  a proactive offensive measure will become available to us when a vaccine, or several vaccines, are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).houston-photo

Since January, vaccine developers have been using previous research from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreaks to inform their studies. Reports suggest that the rapid pace at which researchers are currently working will result in a novel COVID-19 vaccine that could be available within 18 months and possibly sooner.

According to the trade publication, Drug Target Review, there are 15 major pharmaceutical companies working to develop a vaccine, all hoping to cash in on the tremendous worldwide demand, while also ending this pandemic. However, the research at two of those companies has become controversial because they are developing their vaccines using fetal stem cells taken from aborted babies. Researchers at Johnson and Johnson (J&J) and Moderna are developing vaccines under that questionable protocol.

jjSo sometime in the next year, each and every one of us may have to make an ethical decision about accepting a vaccine for COVID-19.  Unless the FDA steps in to stop them, those two drug companies may finalize their clinical trials for their vaccines and be first to the market.  If that happens, how many will bypass the vaccine and wait for a medicine developed ethically? How many will just accept it, because they don't know how the vaccine was developed, or just don't care?

It will really come down to how many people are informed and have the faith integrity to say no at the potential risk to their health. That will be a very personal decision for each of us, but Christian leaders are working to raise awareness for this issue while calling on the U.S. government not to support the unethical research.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities

Recently, Catholic bishops were joined by leaders of several health care, bioethics and pro-life organizations, “urgently and respectfully” imploring the FDA commissioner, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, to ensure any vaccines developed for the coronavirus “are free from any connection to abortion.” They noted that Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a J&J company) has a substantial contract from Health and Human Services and “is working on a vaccine that is being produced using one of these ethically problematic cell lines.”  The group pointed out that other vaccines being developed by Sanofi Pasteur, Inovio and the John Paul II Medical Research Institute “utilize cell lines not connected to unethical procedures and methods.”

“To be clear, we strongly support efforts to develop an effective, safe, and widely available vaccine as quickly as possible," said the statement from the group's leaders in an April 17 letter to Dr. Hahn. “However, we also strongly urge our federal government to ensure that fundamental moral principles are followed in the development of such vaccines, most importantly, the principle that human life is sacred and should never be exploited.”

trump_85460_c0-0-3696-2154_s326x190Copies of the letter were sent to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar.

“We are aware that, among the dozens of vaccines currently in development, some are being produced using old cell lines that were created from the cells of aborted babies,” the group stated in the letter. “It is critically important that Americans have access to a vaccine that is produced ethically: No American should be forced to choose between being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus and violating his or her conscience. Fortunately, there is no need to use ethically problematic cell lines to produce a COVID vaccine, or any vaccine, as other cell lines or processes that do not involve cells from abortions are available and are regularly being used to produce other vaccines.”

The letter has wide support and will most likely be disseminated to Christians across the country through churches and Christian media outlets.  Last week, Relevant Radio, the highly rated national Catholic radio outlet, highlighted the issue on the Drew Mariani Show.

As could be expected, the political battle on this issue took center stage on April 6, when a group of Congressional Democrats sent a letter to Azar urging the Trump administration to lift restrictions on research that uses human fetal tissue for potential treatment for COVID-19. They argued that allowing fetal tissue in such studies could lead more quickly to a treatment.171294-schumer-pelosi-mn-1445_d3915da1f8671cc7cad50d35dfb25c3b-nbcnews-fp-1200-630

So we know the decision the Democratic leadership has made on this issue. But these are not normal times. With so many people across the world living in fear and turning to God, will people on that side of the aisle follow them? Or will they make a different ethical decision? That choice awaits us all.luke_banks_2-500x301

 

 

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