THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC BIOETHICS CENTER
6399 Drexel Rd. Philadelphia, PA 19151 • 215-877-2660 • ncbcenter.org
NCBC Statement on COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates
July 2, 2021 (Updated August 23, 2021)
The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) does not endorse mandated COVID-19
immunization with any of the three vaccines that have received approval or emergency use authorization as of August 23, 2021, from the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
The most authoritative guidance from the Catholic Church issued on this topic comes from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and emphasizes that individuals must discern whether to be vaccinated or not in conscience and without coercion:
“Practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary. In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good. In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed.
Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent.” (See full text here – and below).
Several key points should be kept in mind by any institution that might consider incentivizing or requiring the use of COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the USA.
- The Church has consistently pointed out the ethical problems with vaccines produced and/or tested using abortion-derived cell lines. The Church has judged it permissible for people to either accept (under protest) or reject the use of such vaccines. In other words, there is no universal moral obligation to accept or refuse them, and it should be a voluntary decision of the individual.
Catholic institutions, in particular, should respect the decisions of people to decline use of vaccines dependent on abortion-derived cell lines. This is especially relevant when there are other means of mitigating risk.
- The best ethical decision-making occurs when individuals have sufficient information for discernment and are able to reflect without undue external pressures placed on them. Mandates, by their very nature, exert pressure that can be severe if employment or the ability to further one’s education are threatened.
- The novelty of the SARS-CoV-2 and of the technologies for eliciting an immune response to prevent or mitigate COVID-19 leave several medical questions unanswered. Only time and careful study of the virus and benefits and adverse effects of the vaccines will provide the answers many persons need to give free and informed consent.
- If any institution mandates COVID-19 vaccination, the NCBC strongly urges robust,
transparent, and readily accessible exemptions for medical, religious, and conscience reasons.
Safeguarding the appropriate judgments of conscience (See Catechism 1776―1802, especially 1790) of all individuals affiliated with the institution helps establish trust and avoid undue pressure during the important and personal process of deciding about appropriate medical care and serving the common good.
- Recognizing the importance of public health, institutions that grant an exemption may require that recipients restrict their interpersonal interactions, but these restrictions should be the least burdensome possible.
|CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH|
Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines
The question of the use of vaccines, in general, is often at the center of controversy in the forum of public opinion. In recent months, this Congregation has received several requests for guidance regarding the use of vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19, which, in the course of research and production, employed cell lines drawn from tissue obtained from two abortions that occurred in the last century.
At the same time, diverse and sometimes conflicting pronouncements in the mass media by bishops, Catholic associations, and experts have raised questions about the morality of the use of these vaccines.
There is already an important pronouncement of the Pontifical Academy for Life on this issue, entitled “Moral reflections on vaccines prepared from cells derived from aborted human fetuses” (5 June 2005).
Further, this Congregation expressed itself on the matter with the Instruction Dignitas Personae (September 8, 2008, cf. nn. 34 and 35). In 2017, the Pontifical Academy for Life returned to the topic with a Note. These documents already offer some general directive criteria.
Since the first vaccines against Covid-19 are already available for distribution and administration in various countries, this Congregation desires to offer some indications for clarification of this matter.
We do not intend to judge the safety and efficacy of these vaccines, although ethically relevant and necessary, as this evaluation is the responsibility of biomedical researchers and drug agencies.
Here, our objective is only to consider the moral aspects of the use of the vaccines against Covid-19 that have been developed from cell lines derived from tissues obtained from two fetuses that were not spontaneously aborted.
1. As the Instruction Dignitas Personae states, in cases where cells from aborted fetuses are employed to create cell lines for use in scientific research, “there exist differing degrees of responsibility” of cooperation in evil. For example,“in organizations where cell lines of illicit origin are being utilized, the responsibility of those who make the decision to use them is not the same as that of those who have no voice in such a decision”.
2. In this sense, when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available (e.g. in countries where vaccines without ethical problems are not made available to physicians and patients, or where their distribution is more difficult due to special storage and transport conditions, or when various types of vaccines are distributed in the same country but health authorities do not allow citizens to choose the vaccine with which to be inoculated) it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.
3. The fundamental reason for considering the use of these vaccines morally licit is that the kind of cooperation in evil (passive material cooperation) in the procured abortion from which these cell lines originate is, on the part of those making use of the resulting vaccines, remote.
The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent–in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.
It must therefore be considered that, in such a case, all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive.
It should be emphasized, however, that the morally licit use of these types of vaccines, in the particular conditions that make it so, does not in itself constitute a legitimation, even indirect, of the practice of abortion, and necessarily assumes the opposition to this practice by those who make use of these vaccines.
4. In fact, the licit use of such vaccines does not and should not in any way imply that there is a moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses.
Both pharmaceutical companies and governmental health agencies are therefore encouraged to produce, approve, distribute and offer ethically acceptable vaccines that do not create problems of conscience for either health care providers or the people to be vaccinated.
5. At the same time, practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary. In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good.
In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed.
Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent.
In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.6.
Finally, there is also a moral imperative for the pharmaceutical industry, governments and international organizations to ensure that vaccines, which are effective and safe from a medical point of view, as well as ethically acceptable, are also accessible to the poorest countries in a manner that is not costly for them.
The lack of access to vaccines, otherwise, would become another sign of discrimination and injustice that condemns poor countries to continue living in health, economic and social poverty.
The Sovereign Pontiff Francis, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on 17 December 2020, examined the present Note and ordered its publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on 21 December 2020, Liturgical Memorial of Saint Peter Canisius.
Luis F. Card. Ladaria, S.I. + S.E. Mons. Giacomo Morandi
Prefect Titular Archbishop of Cerveteri Secretary
 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Dignitas Personae (8 th December 2008), n. 35; AAS (100), 884.
 Ibid, 885.
 Cfr. Pontifical Academy for Life, “Moral reflections on vaccines prepared from cells derived from aborted human fetuses”, 5th June 2005.
 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruct. Dignitas Personae, n. 35: “When the illicit action is endorsed by the laws which regulate healthcare and scientific research, it is necessary to distance oneself from the evil aspects of that system in order not to give the impression of a certain toleration or tacit acceptance of actions which are gravely unjust. Any appearance of acceptance would, in fact, contribute to the growing indifference to, if not the approval of, such actions in certain medical and political circles”.
 Cfr. Francis, Address to the members of the “Banco Farmaceutico” foundation, 19 September 2020.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
I. The Judgment of Conscience
1777 — Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil. It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.
1778 — Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law:
Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more; I mean that it was not a dictate, nor conveyed the notion of responsibility, of duty, of a threat and a promise…. [Conscience] is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.
1779 — It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience. This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection:
Return to your conscience, question it . . . Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness.
1780 — The dignity of the human person implies and requires uprightness of moral conscience. Conscience includes the perception of the principles of morality (synderesis); their application in the given circumstances by practical discernment of reasons and goods; and finally judgment about concrete acts yet to be performed or already performed. the truth about the moral good, stated in the law of reason, is recognized practically and concretely by the prudent judgment of conscience. We call that man prudent who chooses in conformity with this judgment.
1781 — Conscience enables one to assume responsibility for the acts performed. If man commits evil, the just judgment of conscience can remain within him as the witness to the universal truth of the good, at the same time as the evil of his particular choice. the verdict of the judgment of conscience remains a pledge of hope and mercy. In attesting to the fault committed, it calls to mind the forgiveness that must be asked, the good that must still be practiced, and the virtue that must be constantly cultivated with the grace of God:
We shall . . . reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
1782 Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. “He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”
1795 — “Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (GS 16).
1796 — Conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act.
1797 — For the man who has committed evil, the verdict of his conscience remains a pledge of conversion and of hope.
1798 — A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. Everyone must avail himself of the means to form his conscience.
1799 — Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.
1800 — A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.
1801 — Conscience can remain in ignorance or make erroneous judgments. Such ignorance and errors are not always free of guilt.
1802 — The Word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. This is how moral conscience is formed.
IV. Erroneous Judgment
1790 — A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.
1791 — This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.
1792 — Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.
1793 — If – on the contrary – the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.
1794 — A good and pure conscience is enlightened by true faith, for charity proceeds at the same time “from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.”
The more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by objective standards of moral conduct.