We are all familiar with the phrase ‘the end justifies the means’, which is often used in politics and business but also applies to our social lives. The attraction to justify one’s questionable or ‘grey area’ actions in order to achieve what is considered to be a greater good has always been a temptation. So often we forget our values and principles if the result we’re seeking is highly desirable.
The Christian Church and Christians are susceptible to this temptation of accepting any means to achieve what they think are God’s plans. Down through history many unfortunate acts have been carried out in the name of Christ, but which fell tragically short of the values and teachings of Christ himself.
Our current situation with the Coronavirus Covid-19 vaccine once again presents us with this age old dilemma.
COVID-19, and government efforts to control it, have had devastating global effects. In the space of less than one year we’ve seen a massive change to the way we work, move and socialise in our society. Many people have become anti-social, suspicious and in some cases fearful of others in the new culture of social distancing, masks and limitations on our movements. This has resulted in a massive social, psychological, economic and spiritual cost as we witness the closure of businesses, physical lockdowns, and the collapse of recreation and sport. Even more importantly for Christians has been the closure of worship services and Christian gatherings.
Our Federal and State governments have pinned their hopes on the development and provision of a vaccine to enable the safe reconstruction of our economic and social lives. To that end, our Government has entered into arrangements with Astrazeneca, developers of the Oxford Vaccine, so that should it be successful, our own Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) may manufacture it.
Undeniably, these goals are objectively good, to restore the economy, prevent illness and save lives. However, Christians must also measure the ‘means’.
The Bible teaches that human life begins at conception (Psalm 51:5) and therefore is opposed to abortion. However, this vaccine and many other front-runners, use aborted foetal material in their research and production processes. Do these good and wholesome goals, justify the means we will have to use to achieve them?
As Glenn Davies, Archbishop of the Sydney, has written:
“Some will have no ethical problem with using tissue from electively aborted foetuses for medical purposes. Others may regard the use of a cell-line derived from an abortion performed back in the 1970s as now sufficiently removed from the abortion itself to be excusable. But others again will draw a straight line from the ending of a human life in abortion through the cultivation of the cell-line to the use for manufacturing this vaccine; even if the cells have been propagated for years in a laboratory far removed from the abortion, that line of connection remains. They will be concerned not to benefit in any way from the death of the little girl whose cells were taken and cultivated, nor to be trivialising that death, and not to be encouraging the foetal tissue industry.”
Bioethicist Megan Best regards the key question as whether or not there has been material cooperation with the evil act of abortion. If the abortion was conducted in order to harvest materials to be used for vaccines then it would be immoral. Under this view, since the abortion which provided the cells used in the Oxford vaccine were carried out for other reasons, and since the tissue material was acquired after, then using the vaccine doesn’t endorse abortion because its users are not complicit with the original event.
There is also an additional ethical dilemma for believers, which is the dawning knowledge that there are other vaccines on the childhood immunisation schedule that are very likely to have been produced using cells derived from aborted human foetal tissue.
As Christians seeking to act in wisdom and righteousness, perhaps we can ask ourselves some questions.
For example, will a greater evil come about from refusing an unethical vaccine, rather than from accepting it? By accepting the vaccine we would be loving our neighbours and seeking the common good, for in order to be effective, vaccines need a large majority of the community to be dosed.
Or we could ask whether one should accept a vaccine that has originated from an abortion, even if good comes from it? Even though the Oxford vaccine uses cell lines that are over 50 years distant from the time of the abortion and these cells are arguably no longer 'the actual cells of the aborted infant', the original evil still stands. Many will consider this too great a compromise, and the use of any unethical vaccine untenable. Under this view, the choosing of the lesser of two evils is never an acceptable course of action.
Perhaps we might ask whether finding and providing effective medical treatments for COVID-19, rather than focussing so heavily on a fast-tracked vaccine, is a better option. It is reasonable to question why some commonplace medicines, shown to be successful in treating a variety of conditions, including COVID-19, have been dismissed or banned for use in treating COVID-19. One such option gaining acceptance is the tri-therapy recommended by Professor Borody - comprising ivermectin, doxycycline and zinc. Professor Borody’s treatment protocol, when administered early, has had a high success rate.
It is also reasonable to question the wisdom of fast-tracking vaccines at all. Normally, the development of any drug for commercial sale needs to pass a rigorous testing regime that takes many years. Fast-tracking a vaccine is likely to obscure any serious medium and long term side effects of the drug. Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that the motivation to ‘win the race’ to create a COVID-19 vaccine might not just be the health of citizens and restoration of the economy, but also the billions of dollars of profit that manufacturers and investors will make.
So what is a Christian to do? Ultimately, this is a question each of us will personally need to answer.
However, there is one clear pathway that Christian’s can agree with Archbishop Davies and many others on, and that as Christians, we should call on the Government to provide ethical alternative vaccines. Already one such alternative vaccine that the Federal Government is looking at, is being developed by the University of Queensland. An agreement has already been established with CSL to produce 51 million vaccines should it prove to be successful. At the time of writing I enquired directly with the appropriate department and was assured that no aborted foetal tissue has been used in its research and development.
But as Christians we must ensure that we are placing our trust in the Lord and consider the words from Job 14:5 which says, “a person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.”
We should be thankful for the gift of science and especially for the inroads that medicine has made in curbing disease and disability. But as Christians we must ensure that we are placing our trust in the Lord and consider the words from Job 14:5 which says, “a person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” No matter how hard we try, (for it is God who blesses medical treatment) no one can add one more day to our lives beyond what God has determined. But neither should we forget that we have a responsibility before God to seek righteousness and justice, and so it must follow that where we can pursue ethical medical treatments, we must do so. We are to be careful and considered, but not fearful, for our hope is built on Jesus’ blood and righteousness, nothing less and nothing more.
Rev Christopher Duke
Church and Nation Committee
Presbyterian Church of Victoria
Russell Powell, Accessed 24/08/2020, Sydney Anglicans, https://sydneyanglicans.net/news/call-for-ethically-uncontroversial-covid-vaccine/50486
Megan Best, accessed 31/08/2020, Gospel Coalition Australia, https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/does-acceptance-of-a-covid-19-vaccine-represent-endorsement-of-abortion/
Thomas Borody, 12/09/2020, Covexit.com, http://covexit.com/professor-thomas-borody-interview-part-1/