Ethics for Sale

Debi Vinnedge
Reproduced with Permission

"Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." (Eph 5:11)

Those entrusted with positions of power within the Church and Catholic laity have a unique responsibility to uphold the highest degrees of honesty and ethics. Their secular titles serve them well and earn them a high degree of respect and credibility among their peers. Whether they are clergy, doctors, lawyers, psychologists or scientists, they must set aside personal motivations when writing, teaching or speaking as leaders of the Catholic community. And they must do so at all times -- not simply when it is convenient. But when politics and greed extend beyond the realm of the social world into the world of religion and ethics, let the buyer beware: "something wicked this way comes…"

As Catholics, it seems we are constantly challenged to seek the truth when certain aspects of our culture contradict what we believe in our hearts to be morally wrong. Our first logical source of guidance would be to seek answers through the Catechism, Holy Scripture or Vatican encyclicals. Failing to find the answers there, we would then seek the counsel of our local pastor or bishop. But in a world of constantly changing technology, medical advancements and a pervading culture of death, even our priests and bishops are sometimes at odds as to what answers should be given.

In such situations it is not unusual for our Church leaders to call upon the experts -- those who may be more familiar with the bio-technical advances in science and medicine -- to render an opinion on the morality of various issues. Many times, these ethicists and moral theologians have already written dissertations on the matter. One such issue that has been highly publicized and hotly debated in recent months is the use of embryonic stem cells and fetal tissue in medical treatments,therapies and vaccines.  One would assume that because these are modern problems there would not be much in the way of historical data. But surprisingly, experiments in this area of biomedical research began in the early 1900's with considerable documentation as early as the 1930's.

During that time, scientists thought they had discovered a virtual "fountain of youth" in chicken cell line experiments. Alexis Carrel, Nobel Laureate and cell biologist cultivated cells derived from chick heart tissue, which lived for 34 years, well beyond the oldest age ever recorded for a chicken (12 years)1. Scientists theorized if they could achieve immortality at the cell level, they might be able to defeat the aging process altogether. The research quickly migrated to human subjects and at first, like Carrel's experiments, some, but not all cell cultures seemed to replicate indefinitely.

In the early 1960's the scientific team of Leonard Hayflick and Paul Moorhead from the University of Pennsylvania's Wistar Institute in Philadelphia would ultimately prove these "immortal" theories wrong, demonstrating that all normal cell strains -- animal or human have a finite lifespan and that lifespan is directly proportionate to the age of the cell donor. For example, experiments on aborted fetuses demonstrated that these cells would live much longer than the cells donated by a fully matured adult. Why? Because all normal cells go through an aging process called senescence -- just as human beings do. And in the years that followed Carrel's work, every experiment conducted worldwide, failed to produce the same results -- except, as Hayflick discovered, when the cells were cancerous. Indeed, the human cell lines used at this point called HeLa, had been derived from female cervical cancer tissue. Two theories emerged from this: that Carrel's chick cells were either cancerous or the cells had been fed or "seeded" with fresh chick embryo extract daily.2

In 1961 Hayflick and Moorhead published their findings after experimenting on 19 different aborted fetuses, procured by Wistar. The cell lines were numbered WI-1 through WI-25 and were extracted from lung, skin, muscle, heart, kidney, liver and thyroids of the fetuses. In every experiment conducted, regardless of the environment in which the cells were cultivated, all demonstrated a certain and finite lifespan, except when carcinogenic cell lines were introduced. Hayflick cites the danger of using such cells in vaccine production since it could transfer cancerous agents to the human subject receiving the vaccines.3

And in 1965 Hayflick proved the undisputed fact that the very same aborted fetal cell line used in production of many of today's vaccines, (WI-38) and touted as being immortal, in fact, has a limited capacity to replicate, and will eventually die.4 After over 30 years of research on these and hundreds of other aborted fetal cell lines, Hayflick concluded in 1997 that the effort to achieve immortality was "futile".(2)

By now you are probably asking yourself, "Okay, cell lines are not immortal… so what does that mean to me as a Catholic?" Fair question, simple answer: If the cell lines used in vaccine production are not immortal and they are not, then in order to continuously produce them, something is going to have to change as the cells reach full senescence and die off completely. Either new aborted fetal tissue will have to be used as a culture medium or an entirely different method will be needed for production. More importantly, as Catholics, you have been either patently lied to, or at a minimum, grossly misled by the so-called experts.

One of the key arguments used by ethicists who researched this issue in the past has been that in vaccine production there is no need for further fetal tissue since the existing cell lines are immortal.5 Some have gone so far as to say if there was a need for additional fetal tissue, then it would be morally wrong to use them since we would be creating a market for abortion. In reality, that is exactly what has happened as recently evidenced in May, 2002 when the National Institutes of Health and Merck both announced their plans to produce new vaccines for Ebola and HIV in a joint alliance with biomedical research company, Crucell, N.V. The vaccine will be manufactured using Crucell's PER C6 cell line, which is derived from the retinal tissue of an 18 week gestation fetus, aborted because, according to Dr. Van Der Eb at a recent hearing with the FDA, "The women wanted to get rid of the fetus. …The father was not known and that was, in fact, the reason why the abortion was requested."

In the FDA report Dr. Van Der Eb goes on to say that, "PER C6 was made just for the pharmaceutical manufacturing of adenovirus vectors." He adds, "I realize that this sounds a bit commercial, but PER C6 were made for that particular purpose."6

Now one might congenially say these ethicists were simply misinformed and had no way of knowing that the fetal cell lines used in established vaccines (MRC-5 and WI-38) would not be sufficient for future vaccine development. However in the writings of each ethicist who boldly made such statements, all have cited the very articles Hayflick wrote in both 1961 and 1965 in which he repeatedly stated that WI-38 and other fetal cell lines are not immortal. So what exactly were these writers referring to then? In the same articles, Hayflick describes the gruesome details of the abortions and the tissues extracted to produce the fetal cell line, WI-38, which is used in both the chickenpox and rubella vaccines. So, either they never actually read Hayflick's article and cited it merely as a reference point of how the vaccines were developed or they purposely omitted the facts pertinent to cell mortality.

And if that were not bad enough, that misinformation has been handed down from one or perhaps several persons who had every motive in the world to lie -- to other innocent people who were simply searching for the right answers and never got them. The point is that our bishops, our politicians, our physicians and most likely, some ethicists themselves have been duped.

In addition, another point that has frequently been cited regarding the morality of using vaccines propagated from aborted fetal tissue is that the abortions were not done with the intention of creating vaccines or for any medical research purposes7. Again, this is not true, and the evidence is glaring, especially in the case of the rubella vaccine development. During the 1964 rubella epidemic, doctors in Pennsylvania began advising pregnant women who contracted the disease during their first trimester to abort their child. The reason being that if the mother passes on the virus to her unborn child, there is a 20-25% chance that the child will be born with some type of congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).8 CRS can cause blindness, deafness, malformation of organs and mental retardation.

Perhaps fearing their unborn child might be seriously affected, many women agreed with their physicians' suggestion to abort their child. In a controlled study, Wistar Institute, in collaboration with the abortionists collected the fetuses from 27 mothers before they were able to isolate the live virus from the kidney of the 27th   baby. This tiny martyr became known in the science world as RA273, (R=Rubella, A=Abortus, 27=27th fetus tested, 3=3rd tissue extracted).9 It is important to note here that it is not known whether these women ever gave consent for their aborted babies to be used in research or if they might have been pressured into doing so. Current laws would prohibit such action but until the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act in 1968, state laws regarding the donation of body organs, not to mention fetal tissue, were imprecise and inconsistent10.

Those favoring fetal tissue research have argued that it is necessary to use aborted fetal tissue to cultivate vaccines because it offers the least contaminated method, however that is also not true. The measles, mumps, polio, rabies and smallpox vaccines are all cultivated on either animal cell lines or chick embryo. And when we consider that in 1964 there was an epidemic of rubella, American scientists could have done exactly what the Japanese did: they swabbed the throat of an infected child to obtain the virus and then grew that virus on rabbit cell lines.11

In the United States however, the rubella virus was cultivated on the lung tissue of the WI-38 fetal cell line, a female aborted at 3 months gestation.[xii] It is undisputable that it was entirely unnecessary to use aborted fetal tissue for the isolation of the virus or the medium culture for the vaccine. Clearly it appears that the only reason it was done in this manner was to justify fetal tissue research. In fact, in Hayflick's articles, he discusses how economical and easy it is to use fetal tissue rather than other culture mediums that are not so readily available.13

In studying the written recordings on the other abortions, the information leaves much open for debate. In the case of WI-38 it is recorded that the parents lived in Sweden and had the abortion because they felt they had too many children. The other fetal cell line developed in later years and used in the chickenpox and hepatitis-A vaccines, MRC-5, was derived from the lung tissue of a male infant at 14 weeks gestation. The history on that abortion which was performed in the UK, states the mother aborted for "psychiatric" reasons14. Since these abortions were not done in the United States, where at least we could speculate that even minimal informed consent laws might have prevented mischief, there is good reason to question the validity of these statements. There is certainly no way of knowing whether the mothers volunteered their babies as research projects or not, but one could muse that especially in the case of MRC-5, if the mother had psychiatric problems, she could have been easily coerced. It may be speculation, but it deserves consideration in light of the absolute truth the abortions had been preplanned. That fact is undeniable.

It is not possible to simply perform an abortion and then after the fact, decide one wants to use the discarded fetus for cell research. Nor is it desirable to do so, according to the University of Pennsylvania's bioethics guidelines, which state that after the abortion, "It is not quite the appropriate time, given the emotional stress that this procedure entails. Based on this premise, consent elicited at this time may be regarded as invalid."15 And from a clinical standpoint, according to Dr. C. Ward Kischer, PhD one of the leading authorities in the nation on human embryology, the abortion must be pre-arranged in order to have researchers available to immediately preserve the tissue. "In order to sustain 95% of the cells, the live tissue would need to be preserved within 5 minutes of the abortion", stated Dr. Kischer. "Within an hour the cells would continue to deteriorate, rendering the specimens useless."16 In a more easily recognizable situation, it is no different than prearranging the donation of one's organs after death. Steps must be taken immediately to maintain the life of the tissue or organs.

The Chain of Complicity

Much has been written about the "complicity" with the original acts of evil and the pharmaceutical companies have tried desperately to divorce themselves from any involvement. But the ugly truth has a way of rearing its head and inevitably, such statements will come back to haunt you. The very fact that Wistar, the research arm of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Glaxo SmithKline (formerly SmithKline Beecham -also in Philadelphia) and Merck's vaccine manufacturing division (West Point, PA) are so close to one another and precisely where the abortions took place during the rubella epidemic is suspect enough. But it gets clearer as the facts are revealed. Merck and Glaxo SmithKline have both contributed heavily to the University's research programs. Indeed, although Merck vehemently denies any involvement with the RA273 or WI-38 abortions - the very same cell lines used in their own rubella vaccine -- Hayflick himself, who was on staff at Wistar at the time of his work, credits part of the research to Dr. Anthony Girardi of the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research in his article acknowledgements.(2)

The links in the chain of complicity come together without dispute. But how does this tie into the fabrications about "cell immortality" and the abortions? Merck did not write the articles stating it was morally okay to use these vaccines. That would never have been accepted by anyone as being even remotely credible. But when Children of God for Life wrote to Merck requesting they produce ethical alternatives for their tainted vaccines, the culprit would be revealed in their response. Executive Director of Merck Public Affairs, Isabelle Claxton replied, "A number of thoughtful briefings have been published regarding the moral implications of vaccination against rubella and varicella, including a paper by John D. Grabenstein in Volume 2, Number 2 of the Official Journal of the Christian Pharmacists Fellowship International in 1999." She graciously enclosed a copy of his article "for my review". John D. Grabenstein, Ph.D., a Lieutenant-Colonel in the United States Army and a Catholic, is touted as "an expert in medical ethics" by -- The GlaxoSmithKline Executive Management Program. Their program states that, "For seven days each year, 40 pharmacists from around the nation are competitively selected to study financial, managerial and leadership approaches to organizational development essential to the pharmacy leader's role." Grabenstein is listed on the faculty and staff of the Glaxo SmithKline Wharton Pharmacy Management team.

According to Glaxo SmithKline, their "Industry-academic cooperation is a win-win proposition for both parties involved. A unique program called The Wharton Partnership brings together member organizations — corporations and foundations — in order to create long-term, mutually beneficial relationships."17 It just so happens that Glaxo SmithKline is one of the manufacturers of the tainted Hepatitis-A vaccine. Merck is the other.

And what is Grabenstein's relationship to Merck? He has co-authored publications with Merck,18 conducted training seminars for Merck19 and even assisted with the development of a website for the ASHP Research Foundation, which was funded by an unrestricted grant program -- by Merck.20 Grabenstein also chaired a recent symposium by the ASHP in which they described him as "a passionate advocate for pharmacist-based immunization efforts, (who) challenged attendees to become more aggressive in their efforts". The Foundation announced the availability of up to $50,000 in research grant funds dedicated to pharmacist-based immunization advocacy studies. The entire program is financed by the Merck Vaccine Division.21

It doesn't matter that Grabenstein has no Bioethics or Theology training in his curriculum vitae. What matters is that he has published more than 250 articles and six books, primarily on vaccine advocacy. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Health, the American Pharmaceutical Association, and the American Society of Health-system Pharmacists. He is the principal author of "Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery," a CDC-recognized curriculum of the American Pharmaceutical Association. He is also Deputy Director of the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program Agency, within the U.S. Army Surgeon General's Office.

To say that John Grabenstein has no ulterior motives in asserting that the use of vaccines derived from aborted fetal tissue is morally acceptable is simply ludicrous. Sadly, his guidance was enlisted by trusted ethicists such as Daniel P. Maher and Edward Furton, at the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC). In his article appearing in their Spring 2002 NCBC Quarterly, Maher gratefully acknowledges the assistance of John Grabenstein in compiling his information. Oddly enough in the Grabenstein article mentioned above, he reciprocates the acknowledgement to both Maher and the NCBC. The articles however do not relate the truth and, unfortunately, it is such publications that are used by our bishops, priests, lay people and other ethicists to guide them in writing their own dissertations and deciding moral issues.

Perhaps in such matters, it is better to consider the only sure source of truth is often found in the place we should have been searching to begin with -- in the wisdom of the Magisterium of the Church. Through Her teaching and in silent prayer we will most likely discover what we really knew all along. If our heart -- our soul -- our moral conscience is telling us that something is wrong, most likely it is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states this beautifully:

"Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its' voice ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment… For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God…His conscience is man's most secret core and sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths."(CCC 1776)

In summary, consider this notion of the author and ethicist, J. Savulescu in his article, A Right Not To Be Born, published in Medical Ethics: "We should have the right to have as many children as we want, whenever we want and what kind of children we want".22 If one accepts that line of thinking as "ethical" we might as well say then that abortion, contraception, in-vitro fertilization, genetic screening and human cloning are all morally acceptable practices. Simply because someone is titled as an ethicist does not always mean their reasoning is ethical. Nor does God speak any louder to those who have a PhD at the end of their name than He does to the heart that seeks Him in earnest. Indeed, what our Father has kept hidden from the learned and wise, He has revealed to the merest of children. (Mt 11:25)


1 Parker, R.C., 1961, Methods of Tissue Culture, Harper and Roe, New York [Back]

2 Hayflick, Mortality and Immortality at the Cellular Level: A review, University of California, San Francisco, August, 1997 [Back]

3 L. Hayflick and P.S. Moorhead, The Serial Cultivation of Human Diploid Cell Strains, Experimental Cell Research 25, 585-621, 1961 [Back]

4 L. Hayflick, The Limited In Vitro Lifetime of Human Diploid Cell Strains, Experimental Cell Reserch, 37, 611-636, 1965 [Back]

5 John D. Grabenstein, Moral Considerations With Certain Viral Vaccines, Christian Pharmacists Fellowship International, Vol 2, Winter 1999, pages 3-6

Daniel P. Maher, Vaccines, Abortion and Moral Coherence, National Catholic Bioethics Center Quarterly, Spring 2002

Edward J. Furton, Vaccines Originating in Abortion, Ethics & Medics, March 1999, Vol 24, No.3 [Back]

6 [Back]

7 Daniel P. Maher, Vaccines, Abortion and Moral Coherence, National Catholic Bioethics Center Quarterly, Spring 2002 [Back]

8 New England Journal of Medicine; Rubella in Children, Pediatrics, 1965, 1976, 1980 [Back]

9 American Journal Diseases of Children; Virus Production and Biological Control of Live Attenuated Rubella Virus Vaccines, Vol. 118 Aug 1969; Attenuation Of RA273 Rubella Virus [Back]

10 The preface to the 1968 Anatomical Gift Act states the following regarding the legal status of organ donation at that time: "Both the common law and the present statutory picture is one of confusion, diversity, and inadequacy [Back]

11 Takashi Nagashima, Studies on the Live Attenuated Rubella Virus Vaccine, Kitasato Institute, Arch of Exp. Med. Vol. 46, No. 1-2, 51-55, 1973 [Back]

12 Plotkin, S.A. Development of R/A/27/3 attenuated rubella virus grown in WI-38 cells, International Symposium on Rubella Vaccines, London, 1968; Symp. Series Immunobiology Standard, Vol. 11, pp. 249-260 (Karger, Basel/New York 1969). [Back]

13 L. Hayflick and P.S. Moorhead, The Serial Cultivation of Human Diploid Cell Strains, Experimental Cell Research 25, pg 618, 1961 [Back]

14 Jacobs, Nature 277:168 (1970), Characteristics of a human diploid cell designated MRC-5. [Back]

15; Univ of Pennsylvania website, Bioethics [Back]

16 Personal interview conducted 7-12-02; American Life League World Family Conference [Back]

17 or [Back]

18, People Vaccinated by Pharmacists: Descriptive Epidemiology, John D. Grabenstein, Harry A. Guess, and Abraham G. Hartzema (Merck Research Laboratories) [Back]

19 1-22-98 Immunizations: What's a Health-System Pharmacist to Do? Lt. Col. John D. Grabenstein, M.S. Pharm., Ed.M. Sponsored By: Merck-Vaccine  Credits: 1 hr. [Back]

20 [Back]

21 [Back]

22 J. Savulescu, A Right Not To Be Born, Medical Ethics 2002, Vol 28, 65-67 [Back]