As Americans have started receiving the COVID-19 vaccines, many Christians have debated the ethics of taking the vaccine or not taking the vaccine. To help Christians think through these issues, three Christian ethicists recently wrote an article in the Public Discourse Journal.
In the article, C. Ben Mitchell, the former Graves Chair of Moral Philosophy at Union University; Matthew Arbo, an Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Oklahoma Baptist University; and Andrew T. Walker, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and Apologetics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, explained why they will take the vaccine and why they believe it is morally consistent for other Christians to do the same.
They introduce their argument by saying, “In the end, we believe the goods associated with vaccination outweigh the risks or goods born of refusing vaccination.” After stating their thesis, they work through the points of contention related to the vaccine.
One of the first ethical quandaries in dealing with vaccine development is the question of whether abortions were administered to acquire tissue for research and development. The authors spoke to this question clearly. “No abortions occurred in the development of COVID-19 vaccines. Nor is it certain the original abortions from which the cell lines were initially established were performed for the sake of developing vaccines.”
They added, “The cell lines used in developing and confirming the viability of COVID-19 vaccines were used as a result of previous abortions. They were not the cause of any new abortion.”
Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, spoke about this issue in more detail in a recent discussion with Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. Collins explained that a cell line derived from an elective abortion in 1972 is often used in biomedical research, but it did not play a role in the development of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
A cell line is “established by culturing fetal cells in such a way that they continue growing and multiplying in laboratory dishes indefinitely. These cells can then be used for such activities as testing a drug’s ability to damage genetic material or to test the effects of specific viral infection.” A team of writers for the ERLC clarified that the cell lines “no longer contain fetal body parts, and no fetal tissue remains. No cells remain from the original fetal tissue.”
Walker, Arbo, and Mitchell also discussed a scenario in which those who object to take the vaccine have to resist government mandates to take the vaccine. The authors begin with an acknowledgment that they do not think Christians will face this conundrum. They say, “We doubt the government will impose mandates on civilians. We could be wrong about this, and if they do occur, we will have to confront those challenges as they arise.”
They acknowledge that it is imperative that “individual conscience not be violated.” In addition, the said that, “Individuals may have personal reasons for temporary or indefinite refusal. Perhaps a person might wish to see better long-term evidence, for example, or might delay vaccination so that more vulnerable members of the population may receive it first. That latter example, under conditions of strained supply, represents a real act of charity.”
In the case of government mandates for civilians to take the vaccine, the authors concluded that a defense of individual conscience rights “will also certainly find their way through the courts.”
The authors conclude by making the case that Christians should take the COVID-19 vaccine. They argued that, “It seems wise to be vaccinated, because doing so may protect one’s own life and the lives of others.”
They explain their reasoning, as well as qualifying what they don’t mean, by saying that, “Because we believe that concerns about vaccination do not rise to the threshold necessary to justify forgoing it, we believe that it is strongly morally advisable to get vaccinated. However, even if this rises to the level of a moral ‘ought,’ that does not mean we think churches should discipline their members if they refuse to get vaccinated. Nor does it mean that an individual who forgoes the vaccine is necessarily sinning. Vaccination is a salutary act born of Christian love for neighbor and community, not a test of faithfulness.”
They conclude by appealing to every Christian’s duty to love his neighbor as himself, saying, “"If by the minimal burden of wearing a mask, we can potentially protect others from grave illness, then it seems we have a moral obligation to wear a mask. The same can be said for COVID-19 vaccinations. If by being vaccinated we can protect others from illness, then we have a corresponding obligation, given our Lord’s command to love neighbors, to be vaccinated. Vaccinations not only protect me, but also protect other vulnerable members of society."
Photo courtesy: Fernando Zhiminaicela/Pixabay
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”