The moral principles are clear: everyone is obliged to take care of his health, and parents also have the duty of caring for their children’s health. That is part of the Fifth Commandment.
When it comes to vaccinations there are many opinions, some based on fact and others based on fear or a mix of the two, and good parents look for guidance and wonder who they can trust. Clearly, vaccinations against measles and polio have saved countless lives and improved the health and living conditions of many millions over the past 50 years. That is an undisputed fact. However, when I was a child, kids my age received only a couple of vaccines. Today, it is standard to receive many vaccines.
With the reality of the unexplained genesis of autism, some parents worry that vaccinations might be part of the cause, even though this has not been scientifically proven. Additionally, it is well documented that the origin of some standard vaccines currently in use can be traced to cells of aborted children, and that in itself is repugnant. However, expert bioethicists accredited to the Vatican have studied these issues in depth and have stated that a Catholic in good conscience can receive a vaccination of this kind.
Perhaps the most useful statement on this issue can be found at the National Catholic Bioethics Committee website (www.ncbcenter.org), copied here, in part:
“FAQ on the Use of Vaccines
“What is the Church’s teaching about the use of certain vaccines that have a distant historical association with abortion?
“There are a number of vaccines that are made in descendent cells of aborted fetuses. Abortion is a grave crime against innocent human life. We should always ask our physician whether the product he proposes for our use has an historical association with abortion. We should use an alternative vaccine if one is available.
“Are there any vaccines for which there are no alternatives?
“Unfortunately, at present there are no alternative vaccines available in the United States against rubella (German measles), varicella (chickenpox), and hepatitis A. All of these are grown in the cell lines WI-38 and/or MRC-5. (See note #7 of the statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life for a listing of vaccines and their source).
“What do I do if there is no alternative to a vaccine produced from these cell lines?
“One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion. The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.
“What support is there in Church teaching for this position?
“A statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life issued in 2005 holds that one may use these products, despite their distant association with abortion, at least until such time as new vaccines become available.
“Am I free to refuse to vaccinate myself or my children on the grounds of conscience?
“One must follow a certain conscience even if it errs, but there is a responsibility to inform one’s conscience properly. There would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious disease, for example, rubella, especially in light of the concern that we should all have for the health of our children, public health, and the common good.”