EDITOR’S NOTE: Alan Branch serves as professor of Christian Ethics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. To learn more about Resolution 4, “On Use of Products of Fetal Tissue Research,” see https://mbcpathway.mobaptist.org/2020/11/05/messengers-sweat-the-details-in-pro-life-resolutions-wording/.
KANSAS CITY – Though I am a member of a Missouri Baptist Church, I was not at the recent annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Had I been there, I would have spoken against and not voted for Resolution 4.
First, the resolution reflects a confused and truncated understanding of the relationship between childhood vaccines and fetal tissue derived from abortion. Two human cell lines originally derived from two aborted babies — one of whom was aborted in Sweden in 1964 and the other in England in 1970 — are used to develop five vaccines currently used in the United States: Varicella (chickenpox), rubella (the “R” in the MMR vaccine), hepatitis A, one version of the shingles vaccine, and one preparation of rabies vaccine. (See Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “Vaccine Ingredients – Fetal Tissues,” December 7, 2017, reviewed by Paul A. Offit, https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/vaccine-ingredients/fetal-tissues.)
These are known as “immortalized cell lines,” meaning they can reproduce indefinitely. In neither case was the abortion performed in order to provide tissue for research. The two cell lines derived from these abortions are known as WI-38 and MRC-5. Furthermore, no abortions are currently performed to continue these cell lines and the idea that the abortion industry is feeding a pipeline of fetal tissue to produce modern vaccines is inaccurate. In the United States, vaccines not derived from aborted fetuses are available for three of the five vaccines in question, the exceptions being Hepatitis A and rubella. A rubella vaccine not derived from human cell lines is available in Japan, but not the USA.
Second, the resolution lacks the precision needed to speak to current research on a Covid-19 vaccine. A rumor has circulated via the internet and social media that the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca’s vaccine contains tissue from aborted fetuses. This is not true. The AstraZeneca vaccine is developed from a kidney cell line known as HEK-293 derived from an abortion in 1973. (See Christian Medical and Dental Association, “CMDA Update on Covid-19 Vaccines as of November 16, 2020,” https://cmda.org/coronavirus/.)
Some people are confused, and think that because a cell line was derived from an aborted fetus that the vaccine itself contains some small cells or parts of an aborted fetus. This is not true. A well-worded resolution carefully and precisely distinguishes between different uses of cell lines in research and dispels the myth that human fetal parts in are in vaccines.
Third, the resolution blurs an important moral distinction between the sale of body parts from pre-born humans and vaccines derived from cell-lines originating with human fetal tissue. The sale of human fetal body parts is apparently what Planned Parenthood abortionist Deborah Nucatola was caught discussing on camera in 2015. But cell lines derived from fetuses aborted many years ago are a different moral issue needing a specific response. Resolution 4 is worded in such a way as to lead the uninformed to wonder if body parts are being sold today for the purpose of creating vaccines, which is not true.
Fourth, Resolution 4 fails to clarify what it means by “health and beauty products” made from aborted fetuses. A false claim often repeated is that abortion mills are selling aborted babies to cosmetic companies so the babies’ collagen can be harvested for beauty products. There is no evidence this is true. However, there is evidence that a cosmetic company named Neocutis is now producing products partly developed from cell lines derived from aborted fetuses. Resolution 4 should have specifically stated exactly what cosmetic products were in mind; as written, it subtly suggests the more extravagant claims are true.
Fifth, Resolution 4 makes reference to the SBC’s 2000 Resolution “On Human Fetal Tissue Tracking.” This timely resolution from 2000, for which I voted in the affirmative, focused specifically on embryonic research being performed on fetuses derived from ongoing abortions or in vitro fertilization. But the cell-lines used in certain modern vaccines are not derived from on-going abortions. Resolution 4 seems confused on the moral issues attempting to be addressed by either resolution.
Vaccines have been a wonderful blessing to our nation and a public health success we can all celebrate. Resolution 4 is written in such a way that I interpreted it to be a subtle nod to certain anti-vaccination myths – mainly, that babies are currently being aborted to make vaccines and that vaccines contain fetal parts. A well-worded resolution addressing moral complicity in the use of vaccines derived from human fetal cell lines is certainly appropriate for Baptists to consider. A poorly worded, confused resolution which blurs important moral issues and subtly gives credence to inaccurate information is not prudent for any deliberative body, especially for Missouri Baptists.