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Morality of taking Covid-19 vaccines

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Much is being said about moral question associated with the use of the Covid-19 vaccines developed with the use of cells from aborted fetuses, but much of it is not grounded in a serious debate based on Catholic moral principles. Now, I understand that there are many other concerns regarding the Covid-19 vaccines - doubts over the safety of the mRNA vaccines, lack of long-term research, possible shady reasons for their introduction driven by behind-the-scenes forces, etc. However, here I want to set all of that aside and focus solely on the question of moral principles in regard to taking the Covid-19 vaccines.

Well, I'm not convinced by the main moral argument against the use of these vaccines at all. Usually it goes something like this. There are two kinds of cooperation with evil - formal and material. While formal cooperation with evil is always forbidden and cannot be morally justified, in some situations material cooperation with evil can be excusable due to being very distant (for example, paying taxes to the State, some of which will be used for immoral purposes, or buying food from companies which might be involved in immoral actions). The argument then goes, that the crime of abortion is so serious, that no material cooperation with it, however distant, can be tolerated. This view is expressed by Bishop Schneider in his letter regarding the Covid vaccines:

The theological principle of material cooperation is certainly valid and may be applied to a whole host of cases (e.g. in paying taxes, the use of products made from slave labor, and so on). However, this principle can hardly be applied to the case of vaccines made from fetal cell lines, because those who knowingly and voluntarily receive such vaccines enter into a kind of concatenation, albeit very remote, with the process of the abortion industry. The crime of abortion is so monstrous that any kind of concatenation with this crime, even a very remote one, is immoral and cannot be accepted under any circumstances by a Catholic once he has become fully aware of it. One who uses these vaccines must realize that his body is benefitting from the “fruits” (although steps removed through a series of chemical processes) of one of mankind’s greatest crimes.

I'm not convinced by his argument because I don't see how there is material cooperation with evil here at all. The HEK 293 fetal cells used to develop the vaccines come from few abortions (or even a single one, various sources differ here) done in the 1970s. That happened decades ago - how is it possible to cooperate with something that happened in the past? It is impossible. "Cooperation" necessarily implies faciliating something or providing some sort of assistance in something. You cannot faciliate or assist something that happened in the past and is finished. The argument would be sound if cells from new abortions were being used and that the vaccine research and development would thus create an additional demand for these kinds of cells and thus increase the revenue of Planned Parenthood and their likes, and perhaps increase number of abortions being made. That is not the case.

Let me use an analogy. Suppose I'm working in Auschwitz-Birkenau museum and I make my money and living of it. The concentration camp functioned 75 years ago and is thing of the past. Nonetheless, without Nazis creating this camp and commiting horrible crimes in it, my workplace would not exist and I would not be able to earn money by working there. Following the reasoning which Bishop Schneider presented in the above quote, by earning money from working in the Nazi concentration camp, I "enter into a kind of concatenation, albeit very remote, with the process of killing Jews and Poles". I benefit from what the Germans did during WW2 and am guilty of "material cooperation" with the crimes commited in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Obviously, such a notion is utterly absurd.

I don't see any principled moral difference between these cases. In both, immoral acts took place in distant past (1940s and 1970s) and are not being furthered or faciliated by the actions in question (taking of Covid-19 vaccines does not result in more abortions being made and Auschwitz-Birkenau camp being open for tourism does not result in new crimes being commited). In both cases, good is being derived from the results of those immoral actions - the former German concentration camp gives employment to many people and boosts local economy by increasing tourist revenue, and the vaccines developed with the use of fetal cells protect us from the virus (for the sake of argument let's assume that Covid-19 vaccines are benefitial - as I wrote at the beginning, I want to examine solely the moral principles here, not the safety or necessity of the vaccines etc.). In both cases, the actions in question do not constitute approval of evil actions that happened in the past (making money from working in Auschwitz-Birkenau does not mean support for the Nazi Germany, taking Covid-19 vaccine does not mean support for abortion).

To conclude, it is not possible to "materially cooperate" with something that happened in the past (cooperation = faciliation, assistance), and the principle which Bishop Schneider seems to employ (taking advantage of consequences of evil actions always constitutes material cooperation with evil) is incorrect.         

Furthermore, even if we accepted Bishop Schneider's understanding of the principle of material cooperation (which I believe to be fallacious, for the reasons explained above) and his claim that because abortion is such a serious crime, no cooperation with it, however distant, can be tolerated, the reality is that there are actions which are excused by the principle of material cooperation which contribute much more to the crimes of abortion. An example would be paying taxes - money from your taxes is being used to perform abortions right now, and thus directly contributes to increasing the death toll of unborn babies. That is much more proximate and meaningful material cooperation with evil than any supposed "material cooperation" by taking Covid-19 vaccine (which is not material cooperation at all). 

This article, by Michael Pakaluk, a philosophy professor,  makes a similar point:

--- Quote ---First, we need to clear up some confusions involving Liguori’s distinction, from his Theologia Moralis, between “formal” and “material” cooperation. That distinction is useful only when cooperation is verified, and one wants to know what sort of cooperation it is. The word co-operation means to assist (“co-”) in some present or future undertaking (“operatio”).  Therefore, Liguori’s distinction cannot apply to any action completed in the past, and, in particular, it cannot be applied to abortions done in the past. This is clear not only from the meaning of the words themselves, but also from Liguori’s cases, all of which concern present or future undertakings; for example: can a servant assist his master with his horse who is starting out on a visit to a courtesan? (see III.iii.2, qq. 59-80).
--- End quote ---

This author makes a moral case against the vaccines that does not depend on treating them as material cooperation with abortion.   Do you think that his argument is better?

Seems part of this is semantic. I am not sure what St. Alphonsus Liguori's distinction entails, but would the argument work any better if we were to replace the word "cooperation" with "participation"? Even if you can't cooperate with some past action (debatable), you can certainly participate in it.

Regarding the counterexample:

You say we should go modus tollens (and are using this as a sort of argumentum absurdum), but maybe we ought to just go modus ponens instead, and admit, "Yeah, it's wrong to make money by exhibiting Holocaust paraphernalia"?

Now not to sidetrack the discussion, and I haven't given this much thought, but I kind of think it might be wrong to make money through the exhibition of things in general. Take an art museum, for example. The beauty in the art is transcendent and divine, certainly not the property of any one individual or even the whole human race collectively. So what right does the museum have in charging admission? They can reasonably charge admission in order to cover their operating expenses, but they should not charge admission as a means of holding the artwork's beauty hostage from the general public, nor should they monopolize the artwork and arbitrarily charge whatever they want, knowing that museum-goers have no choice in the matter so long as they want to see the art.

Same goes for academic journals, and any books and films that contain valuable information. The information contained within these works ought to be available free of charge. (This is why I am of the opinion that copyright laws are generally evil, unjust, and oppressive. They interfere with learning and creativity, in order that one private party may profit through a sort of artificial and unnecessary monopoly.)

The same, then, would follow for Holocaust paraphernalia, and for anything of historical interest. The Holocaust museum is then not making money off of the Holocaust, nor in any way participating in the sins of the Holocaust, but is, rather, making certain artifacts available to the general public's viewing, out of historical interest, while charging a fee in order to cover its own expenses.
(The line is a little blurry though, if this museum is in the business of profiting off food and souvenirs. Because though there are no direct profits associated with the exhibition of Holocaust items, the museum is nevertheless using these items as bait in order to lure in potential customers.)

How is it remote when you, the consumer are paying (through taxes) for a product and rewarding the same company for their actions with profit.  You are giving full consent to your Dr to use the product on you directly with your money.  Its not remote at all.
And I don't give a fig for Vatican II declarations on this matter.


--- Quote from: diaduit on April 13, 2021, 11:49:20 AM ---How is it remote when you, the consumer are paying (through taxes) for a product and rewarding the same company for their actions with profit.

--- End quote ---

Because the company did not perform the abortion.  They used a cell line developed from cells taken from an murdered baby 30 years ago.

--- Quote ---You are giving full consent to your Dr to use the product on you directly with your money.  Its not remote at all.

--- End quote ---

In Canada, we do not pay our doctors directly and have little to no say in what products they use. The government decides what it will authorize and pay for.  This is not a situation of full consent.  (There is a comparable situation in the US because of the way medical insurance works.)


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