Cell Line Research At Georgetown et al
(Children of God for Life Responds)

Debi Vinnedge
Reproduced with Permission

Entire article by The National Catholic Bioethics Center: "Cell Line Research At Georgetown et al"

A controversy has arisen over research being done at some Catholic academic institutions using certain human cell lines. Groups and individuals have charged that the research use of cell lines MRC 5 and WI 38 is immoral because the cell lines originated from tissue taken from two different aborted babies approximately forty years ago. One of the abortions occurred in Sweden, and tissue obtained from that abortion was used to develop WI 38.

There are 4 aborted fetal cell lines used at Georgetown, not just the above two that have been stated. The third, HEK is taken from human embryonic kidney and the fourth, IMR-90, was intentionally created to replace WI-38, to the extent that they specifically chose a fetus that was biologically as close as possible to the WI-38 aborted baby. See http://www.cogforlife.org/fetalvaccinetruth.htm or search IMR-90 on our site.

This is a very complex moral issue. As a result, there is some confusion of facts and misunderstanding of some of the most fundamental principles from the Catholic moral tradition, such as the principle of material cooperation with evil.

The NCBC has failed to recognize the Pontifical Academy's statement on this issue: "Is it morally licit to use ES cells, and the differentiated cells obtained from them, which are supplied by other researchers or are commercially obtainable? The answer is negative, since: prescinding from the participation - formal or otherwise - in the morally illicit intention of the principal agent, the case in question entails a proximate material cooperation in the production and manipulation of human embryos on the part of those producing or supplying them." (Declaration on the Production and The Scientific and The Therapeutic Use of Human Embryonic Stem Cells, Pontifical Academy for Life, 8-25- 2000)

In Catholic moral theory, a particular human action is morally evaluated according to three different but related criteria: (1) the kind of action ("object of the will"); (2) the intention of the actor; and, (3) the circumstances surrounding the action. All three conditions must be judged as moral before the action can be judged as morally licit -- not just one or two of them. Thus, as evidenced above, the issue is not how long ago, or in what country, the abortion took place, but rather it is participation in the morally illicit intention of the principal agent who performed an intrinsically evil action. Regardless of whether the illicit act involved embryos, fetuses, or adult human beings, the Church teachings are clear: It is always wrong to directly and intentionally kill an innocent human being. Unknowing and unwilling participation in that morally illicit act constitutes at least proximate material cooperation in the intention of the agent, thus rendering the use of these cells morally illicit. To knowingly and willingly use these cells derived from aborted innocent human beings would be direct formal cooperation.

It must be said that the Center applauds the commitment to the pro-life cause shown by these groups and individuals. The Center, too, is working for the day when direct abortion -- or even in vitro fertilization -- is no longer legal. The Center clearly opposes the use of fetal tissue in research which is obtained from direct abortions and opposes the destruction of human embryos to establish embryonic stem cell lines and calls on Catholic academic and research institutions not to be party to such practices as we all work toward the establishment of a Culture of Life.

The NCBC seems to be trying to reframe the issue. The issue is not whether or not the original abortion or the use of cells OR tissues derived from the original abortion was "direct". The issue is direct or indirect moral complicity in the intention of the agent(s) who performed that original immoral action -- regardless of how long ago the abortion took place or when the cell derivation was performed. To use money obtained from the sale of illegal drugs -- even if one didn't use the drugs one's self, even if donating it to "a good cause", is both morally and legally complicit in the same crime, to the same degree. The person who is just the get-away driver in a bank hold up is just as morally and legally complicit in "robbery" as are those who walked into the bank and robbed it.

Nevertheless, to find something distasteful does not necessarily mean it is immoral. For example, for years The Children of God for Life have lobbied against the immunization of children for measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox because currently the only vaccines available for these immunizations in the United States are grown in the cell lines MRC 5 and WI 38. (See their website at cogforlife.org.)

Children of God for Life is deeply saddened and distressed to see that the supposedly professional and esteemed members of the NCBC have chosen to calumniate our organization in a matter that calls for public correction. Their statement of our work is simply not correct! We have NEVER ONCE lobbied against immunizations of any kind. We have certainly lobbied against the use of aborted fetal cell lines in the manufacturing of vaccines. And we ENCOURAGE the use of ethical alternatives such as single doses of measles and mumps which use chick embryo. Further, we have sought ethical alternatives for rubella and the combined MMR vaccine - please do see our website! We have the support of over half a million parents, medical professionals and pro-life organizations in our Campaign for Ethical Vaccines. We do emphatically maintain that Catholic schools and institutions owe parents the same kind of freedom to refuse these vaccinations obtained through abortions if they so wish, in the same manner as the parents of children in public schools have, which is lawfully recognized by the government. Children of God for Life herewith requests the NCBC to apologize for this misinformation which is a major injustice that needs to be rectified.

It is the judgment of The National Catholic Bioethics Center that parents and physicians may have children immunized with vaccines grown in cell lines MRC 5 and WI 38 without doing anything immoral. Furthermore, it is possible that pharmaceutical companies and researchers using these cell lines could also be free of immorality if they had not cooperated in the evil which engendered them and they would not contribute to future abortions for the purpose of advancing their work.

Perhaps such is the "judgment" of the NCBC, but as documented above, it is not the teaching of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, the original pharmaceutical companies and researchers did in fact knowingly, willingly, and directly cooperate with the original abortion and derivation of cells! And those pharmaceutical companies and researchers now knowingly and willingly using these cell lines would likewise be participating in the morally illicit intention of the original actors.They most certainly are contributing to further abortions for use in their work as evidenced by the use of PER C6 - a new aborted fetal cell line that is being used for new vaccine development. We encourage you to read the document sent to the NCBC September 2003 and again in January 2004 which clearly shows the direct formal cooperation by these researchers and the pharmaceutical industry.

A petition is currently being circulated to the Archbishop of Washington to put a stop to this research being done at Georgetown University. It appeals to church documents in support of its position. We do as well. The authors cite Directive 66 of the Ethical and Religious Directives: "Catholic health care institutions should not make use of human tissue obtained by direct abortions even for research and therapeutic purposes." And they cite Donum vitae (I.4): "The corpses of human embryos or fetuses, whether they have been deliberately aborted or not, must be respected just as the remains of other human beings. Furthermore, the moral requirements must be safeguarded, that there be no complicity in deliberate abortion and that the risk of scandal be avoided."

Careful distinctions must be made when dealing with complex moral issues such as this one. There is a biological difference between fetal tissue and cell lines derived from fetal tissue.

Careful distinctions" and "complex moral issues" are one thing; obfuscating the scientific facts and the moral teachings of the Church are another. And the facts in this case are simple and clear. The "careful distinction" is only that children were murdered to obtain the cell lines, and the remains of those murdered children still live in their "offspring" - the cell lines. If this were not the case, the cell lines would die. In addition, a biological distinction between "fetal tissue" and "cell lines" is a distinction without a moral difference. In the real world, "cells" are parts of the "tissues" that are parts of the human "body" that has been deliberately destroyed during an elective abortion. Such a "distinction" on the part of the NCBC is a false distinction. The cell lines obtained from aborted fetal tissue are morally no different than the cell lines or their sub-cellular parts obtained from killed embryos. The age of the innocent human being killed is morally irrelevant. That he/she was intentionally killed is. Would the NCBC then say that it is okay to use embryonic stem cells, just not the embryos themselves? Just how does one do that? Would the NCBC also maintain that it is thereby "ethical" to use morally and illicitly obtained kidneys and other body parts in "good" research that have been derived from children who have been maimed and killed for them? In addition, the NCBC further fails to recognize these important Vatican statements:

1) "The second topic of your meeting concerns Stem Cell Technology and Other Innovative Therapies. Research in this field has understandably grown in importance in recent years because of the hope it offers for the cure of ills affecting many people. I have on other occasions stated that stem cells for purposes of experimentation or treatment cannot come from human embryo tissue. I have instead encouraged research on adult human tissue or tissue superfluous to normal fetal development. Any treatment which claims to save human lives, yet is based upon the destruction of human life in its embryonic state, is logically and morally contradictory, as is any production of human embryos for the direct or indirect purpose of experimentation or eventual destruction." (Pope John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Nov 10, 2003)

2) "No objective, even though noble in itself, such as a foreseeable advantage to science, to other human beings or to society, can in any way justify experimentation on living human embryos or fetuses, whether viable or not, either inside or outside the mother's womb". (Given at Rome, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, February 22, 1987, Cardinal Ratzinger)

3) "Although one must uphold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but rather are directed to its healing, the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival, it must nonetheless be stated that the use of human embryos or fetuses as an object of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just as to every person. This moral condemnation also regards procedures that exploit living human embryos and fetuses -- sometimes specifically "produced" for this purpose by in vitro fertilization -- either to be used as biological material" or as providers of organs or tissue for transplants in the treatment of certain diseases." (Evangelium Vitae, 63 Mar. 1995)

There can be a moral difference between using fetal tissue obtained from a miscarriage or an indirect abortion and fetal tissue obtained from a direct abortion.

No such research on miscarried fetal tissue is being conducted by Georgetown or the pharmaceutical industry - only those obtained by DIRECT abortion.

There is a moral difference between researchers cooperating with those performing abortions to obtain tissue to establish cell lines and researchers using an established cell line the origins of which they are unaware, or, if aware, in which they played no part.

There is simply no real "moral difference" here (see above). The researchers using these cell lines must have known -- or should have known -- that these cell lines were obtained from morally repugnant sources and that their use is forbidden by the Church.  Those who did know participated in formal material cooperation. Those who really didn't know participated in proximate material cooperation. Either way, their actions are morally illicit, albeit with varying degrees of guilt.

The researchers using these cell lines most certainly cooperate with abortion by using the "fruits" of a poison tree. Further, they institutionalize abortion and this research by participating in it and profiting from it.

There is a difference between avoiding actions which in and of themselves are wrong and avoiding actions which in and of themselves may be licit but which may appear wrong to others, leading to moral confusion (i.e., scandal).

This is "switch and bait". The performance of this research using these aborted cell lines is per se unethical -- regardless of any good intentions or circumstances, regardless of any further scandal it has already caused. Georgetown has most certainly brought scandal upon themselves and have severely damaged the credibility of every Catholic politician and Catholic leader who has opposed this research.

The directives from the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops appear to refer to Catholic institutions being involved in obtaining fetal tissue from direct abortions for their research. Human cells and tissue can have an existence quite apart from a human being.

Note the careful use of the term "appear to" in the NCBC's statement. Neither the USCCB nor the Holy See actually state or imply this. In the real world, "cells" are parts of the "tissues" that are parts of the human "body" that has been deliberately destroyed during an elective abortion. Again, such a careful "distinction" on the part of the NCBC is both biologically strange as well as existentially non-existent. It is a false distinction. It is the morally illicit ORIGIN of these cells and participation in that morally illicit action that is the issue, not which part of a part of a body is used, or when, or where.  So, does this mean we can use cells and tissues from a human being, but not the human beings themselves? Just how does one propose to do that? You can't get the fetal or embryonic cells without destroying the unborn child! By using these cells and tissues one is using the remains of a human being who must be intentionally killed in order to get them!

Biotechnology companies, for example, grow sheets of human skin to be used for burn victims. The human skin cells had to come from a human being initially but have quite an independent existence. What would clearly be immoral would be killing someone to obtain the skin cells. What would clearly be immoral would be killing a fetus in order to obtain cells to start a cell line or killing a fetus to perform fetal tissue transplantation or directly to contribute to future abortions to obtain tissue or organs for research or therapy.

And that is EXACTLY what was done in obtaining these cell lines. Leonard Hayflick clearly defines what they were doing and why. See http://www.cogforlife.org/fetalvaccinetruth.htm And thus to materially or formally participate in the original evil is morally illicit as well.

What would also be wrong would be arranging for those destructive acts to take place so that one could obtain such tissue.

That was in fact exactly what was done. See the above link.

Georgetown University has not engaged in any of those actions. Furthermore, simply knowing the origin of the lines does not make the researcher complicit in the evil act originally committed, and one certainly cannot maintain that the researchers necessarily share in the intention of the perpetrators of the original evil act merely by working with these materials. There is simply no identifiable assistance in the evil act committed 40 years ago by the researchers currently making use of the cell lines.

Indeed, as thoroughly explained above, Georgetown has engaged in such action. The documentation is there for anyone who wants to review it. The "identifiable assistance" is that they participate -- knowingly or unknowingly -- in the intention of the original wrongdoer, as the Church documents have taught. And they cause scandal by continuing to use these cell lines, ignoring that the remains of these butchered children deserve to be treated with respect - not as tools for profit - which is clearly what Georgetown is doing by accepting federal grants for the research.

It is difficult to accuse current researchers or even the pharmaceutical firms manufacturing these vaccines of illicit cooperation in an evil which occurred four decades ago.

Time does not diminish the sin. A sin committed 40 years ago is still a sin today. God did not punish mankind with the original sin of Adam and Eve for just a few centuries and then said, okay, that's enough. From this point on, nobody bears the sin anymore. Let's face it, I certainly did not eat that apple - I certainly did not want to disobey God - and as for my being related to Adam, well that is really a remote connection after all this time, right? Wrong. To God, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day. An abortion committed 30 years ago was an act of evil then and an abortion done 3 minutes ago is an act of evil now. Sin is erased or diminished only by repentance and restoration of ill gotten goods. Georgetown needs to return their ill-gotten goods!

c) There is no statute of limitations in civil law for murder. The intentional killing of an innocent preborn human being by abortion is to commit the sin of murder. So why should anyone believe there is somehow a statute of limitations in the moral law for the sin of murder?

d) Those who experienced or understand the Holocaust know why Nazi criminals who collectively killed millions of innocent human beings are still hunted and prosecuted in courts around the world for those killings. Just because those killings took place 50 years ago doesn't diminish the horror or injustice of those crimes against innocent human beings. Would it be permissible to use the cell lines from the Holocaust victims in experiments today? Or are we to say that the children murdered in abortion are not entitled to the same respect afforded to all human beings?

To use the reasoning of some of those calling for the cessation of the use of these cell lines at Georgetown would require a refusal to use organs and/or tissue from murder victims even if they had previously stated a wish to be an organ donor.

To compare the use of aborted babies in research to organ donors is like comparing apples to oranges. [A murder victim did not consent to be murdered, but did consent to their organs being used. These babies did NOT give their consent to be murdered nor to their cells, tissues, organs or anything else to be used for any purpose whatsoever. No other person can licitly substitute their "consent" for another's nonconsensual donations.

It would require pro-life groups to refrain from using pictures or even the knowledge of embryonic development in their presentations because such knowledge and pictures were obtained using immoral means (e.g., through immoral embryological research or in vitro fertilization procedures).

Using pictures of aborted babies or embryonic development cannot be even remotely compared to using the babies' remains! To make such a comparison is a shameful act for any organization claiming to give credible ethical guidance!

It is much preferable for cell lines to be developed which are not been derived from directly aborted fetuses for use in research and for the manufacture of human vaccines. This would certainly help to avoid the danger of scandal. Nonetheless, even though it is our current judgment that the use of these cell lines is not intrinsically immoral, we hope and pray and work for the day when cell lines will be available for scientific use which did not arise from immoral practices in the past. Researchers and pharmaceutical firms should work toward that as a goal in order to give witness to a societal abhorrence of the direct killing of the innocent.

And why in the world should they "work toward that goal" when Catholic institutions see nothing wrong with doing immoral research? Aborted fetal tissue is plentiful and cheap. If one believes that these researchers will stop doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, they are living in a fairy tale world. The only way this will stop is when there is no further market for the research or end products - and when Catholic leaders stop giving their blessing to this research!

The National Catholic Bioethics Center
159 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02135
E-mail: search@ncbcenter.org
Tel: 617-787-1900 Fax: 617-787-4900

Children of God For Life
2130 Catalina Drive
Clearwater, Florida 33764
E-mail: info@cogforlife.org
Tel: 727-538-5558