I have been contacted by a few people, concerned about the use of fetal tissue cell lines in the testing of not only some of the COVID vaccines, but also a number of consumer products. (See: https://cogforlife.org/2022/05/09/senomyx-then-and-now/#comment-8950) Rightfully, people are alarmed by how the use of such fetal cell lines have infiltrated many aspects of our lives. This was entirely foreseeable, as happens with a nation stricken by apathy. (And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. - Mat 24:12) For those of you who are not familiar with how aborted fetal tissue cell lines have been used in the production of some vaccines, please read my series on Tainted Vaccines.
At the same time, is there an ethical difference between vaccines that have been tested and vaccines that have been produced using fetal tissue cell lines? (Moderna/Pfizer have been tested with the aid of using fetal tissue cell lines, whereas the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is dependent and is produced on such tissue.) Is there a difference? Certainly, both situations have capitalized (literally) on the illicit death of an innocent human life.
Though it may seem like splitting hairs, please hear me out, and consider the following: Because the virus is grown on the fetal tissue cell lines, abortion and the fetal tissue derived from it are inseparable from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Take away abortions and you have no Johnson & Johnson vaccine. On the other hand, with the mRNA vaccines (Moderna/Pfizer), the aborted tissue cell line testing could be done away with, or done in a different way, and the vaccine and its production would have remained unchanged.
An historical example of this would be the knowledge obtained by Nazi doctors about certain brain diseases, obtained through murdered patients. The murder is condemnable, but it does not change the nature of the diseases, or the facts and knowledge obtained. The understanding of the nature of the diseases could have been obtained through ethical means, yet some of it was not. Some of those facts and this understanding will and have been used in developing treatments. (See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8536572/.) Patients with these diseases should not be reluctant about using treatments that are not unethically produced. On the other hand, it would be easy to see that using actual tissue cultures from murdered patients in the treatments - even if the murders happened long ago - would be impossible for a Christian people.
Another way of looking at this is that some of the circumstances surrounding the development of the Moderna/Pfizer vaccines are bad, but the vaccine itself is not, in itself. In the same way, if a child is conceived or born illegitimately, the circumstances surrounding the birth are not godly, but the child himself or herself is not irredeemable, and not to be cast away.
Another, Biblical, way of looking at this is found in Romans 14 and I Cor 8, referring to the eating of meat offered to idols. In this, the meat is not inherently evil, yet the circumstances surround are. If we do not have a conscience against this, we are permitted to partake. We must approach this in all seriousness. I would imagine that early Christins did not go out of their way to buy meat offered to idols. It was likely done out of great necessity, after much thought and prayer. If there are alternatives, they likely would have been pursued. So should we, if at all possible! The important part is that we follow our Holy Spirit guided conscience, so I can not criticize those who find the circumstances of the mRNA testing to be too close for comfort.
Next, I would again liken the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the leaven of Gal 5:9, in that the evil of the abortion and the vaccine are inseparable. Again, take away abortions and you have no Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It is like the creation of the golden calf. Its existence was inherently evil. The gold was not recycled or cast into something different to glorify God. Rather, it was destroyed entirely.
The final consideration is also found in Romans 14 and I Cor 8, and that is the issue of becoming a stumbling block to our brethren. “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.” (I Cor 8:9) The next 2 questions, then are 1) Who is the weak brother, and 2) How do we avoid becoming a stumbling block?
First, who is the weak brother? In Paul’s description, it is the brother who has an overly sensitive conscience, who can no separate the eating of meat with the circumstances surrounding its having been offered to idols. It certainly could also have been one who had too weak of a conscience: one who had absolutely no problem eating meat offered to idols, because he perhaps sympathized with the idolaters, or perhaps he was a glutton and had to have meat, no matter the cost.
In our vaccine analogy, perhaps the one with the overly sensitive conscience may reject the Moderna/Pfizer vaccines because of the circumstances surrounding their development. But why stop with guilt, one step removed? Why not reject anything guilty, 2 steps removed: reject all medicines produced by any pharmaceutical company that produces abortifacient birth control drugs, or other objectionable drugs? (All would be guilty.) Or 3 steps removed: reject all businesses that financially support said guilty drug companies? (Such as all hospitals.) And so on . . .
The other potentially weak brother in our vaccine analogy is the physically vulnerable brother, at high COVID risk, who encounters the stumbling block of having to decide between his physical health and taking an unethically based medicine or vaccine. If there is a viable treatment option, albeit one brought about with troubling surrounding circumstances, should we unnecessarily deny him that option - even if it results in the shortening of his earthly life?
I am encouraged by the sensitive consciences of my brothers and sisters in the Lord! (But test everything; hold fast what is good. I Thes 5:21) The worst possible outcome is that we become desensitized - without any boundaries because of the defeatism of the day: It is too easy to say to ourselves that since the testing of vaccines is too weak a link to be concerned about, then the production of tainted vaccines is not much weaker of a link to be concerned about, then the use of fetal tissue for “helping people” with diseases is justified because they are going to die anyway . . . eventually to the lethargic acceptance of abortion . . . and the growing acceptance of infanticide. We must keep seeking truth “test everything” - not once but continuously, while unflinchingly “hold fast what is good”!
For me and my house, this translates to avoiding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at all costs, and with trepidation, accepting the Moderna/Pfizer when necessary, either as necessary for employment or for those individuals who are at high risk of COVID complications. (The side effects and efficacy of the vaccines are another topic.) Likewise, consumer products that are known to have capitalized on the testing of fetal cell lines, should be avoided, but used only when necessary, and with prayer. (Those products produced with fetal cell lines, we avoid at all cost.)
With most conflicts and dilemmas within and outside the church, setting good boundaries boils down to maintaining balance (where Biblically given liberty) and relationships (I Cor 13 love for one another) while not sacrificing Scriptural principles. As each of you seek the Lord's wisdom in this matter, I’ll have to admit that that is a difficult thing to do at times, and can stretch us into some uncomfortable positions . . . hopefully one being on our knees!